James Baker: Comey And I Worried About Creating Any J. Edgar Hoover Impression With Steele Dossier

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Former FBI general counsel James Baker joined MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell Thursday to discuss the attorney general beginning an investigation into the bureau's tactics during his tenure and discussed how he and James Comey handled telling President-elect Trump about the existence of the Steele dossier.

"Jim Comey and I had spoken many times in the past about the negative legacy of Director Hoover with respect to things having to do with blackmail and that type of thing," Baker said. "We were very worried about creating any type of impression like that. Our impression was this was about to leak in the press. We decided this was the right thing to do. We thought that would be even worse to know this information and not tell the president-elect."





ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC: The clash between Congressional Democrats and the Trump administration on full display yesterday on Capitol Hill. It was an awkward moment. Attorney General Bill Barr, with the threat of a pending House floor vote to hold him in contempt, approached House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, shook her hand, and said loudly: "Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs?" The Speaker replied, she smiled and told the attorney general that the House sergeant at arms was there should an arrest be necessary.

All this after the attorney general opened a review into how the Russia investigation began. Joining me now is a key figure from all of this, James Baker, the former general counsel for the FBI. He was at the FBI when the Russia probe was initiated.

Tell me about when you and Jim Comey had to discuss approaching the candidate, Donald Trump, and during then the transition to tell him about reports coming out of Russia, were you worried he was going to take offense, feel that it was a threat coming from the FBI, which is exactly how he ended up reacting?

JAMES BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL: We were very worried about that. It was an extremely uncomfortable kind of conversation even to talk about. Jim Comey and I had spoken many times in the past about the negative legacy of Director Hoover with respect to things having to do with blackmail and that type of thing. We were very worried about creating any type of impression like that. Our impression was this was about to leak in the press. We decided this was the right thing to do. We thought that would be even worse to know this information and not tell the president-elect, so we just decided this was the right thing to do and went forward in coordination with the rest of the leaders of the intelligence community.

ANDREA MITCHELL: What about the whole impression that William Barr, someone you worked with in the past, is not giving by "investigating the investigators." They say it's a review but it's basically putting on trial, on defense, the people who launched this investigation.

JAMES BAKER: We all recognize, especially Jim Comey and I have spoken many times about the need to hold us accountable. The FBI has a lot of power and responsibility and needs oversight. It needs it. I've had many reviews conducted by the inspector general in the past and others, and welcome that. It seems strange to say that but we welcome that. The attorney general needs to be comfortable that the agency has the right policies and procedure, protections in place to make sure that the bureau is doing a good job. He's entitled to conduct legitimate review.

ANDREA MITCHELL: Rod Rosenstein now that he's left the Justice Department has called Jim Comey a partisan pundit. Has Comey been too out front?

JAMES BAKER: He's a private citizen with first amendment rights like the rest of us and can say what he wants to say.

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