The FBI’s Former Top Lawyer Says the Russia Probe Was Not About Trump

“It was about what Russia was, and is, doing and planning.”

Alex Wong/Getty

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.

The FBI’s decision to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia “was not about Donald Trump but was about Russia.” That’s how Jim Baker, the bureau’s former general counsel, described the beginning of one of the most consequential probes in the law enforcement agency’s history. 

Baker’s views on Russia, President Donald Trump, and his last several years in the spotlight were the subject of a piece he published Friday in Lawfare, a news site dedicated to national security. The FBI’s investigation was not “an effort to undermine or discredit President Trump,” but a step in a “decades-long effort” to combat Russian intelligence operations. 

“It was always about Russia,” he wrote. “It was about what Russia was, and is, doing and planning.”

Baker, a perennial target of Trump on Twitter, has entered the public arena to refute the right-wing attacks and conspiracy theories aimed at former FBI Director James Comey, the FBI, and him personally for their roles in launching an investigation of the Trump campaign during the summer of 2016. The probe was eventually handed over to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, culminating in the guilty pleas of seven figures—including several close to Trump—and indictments of more than two dozen Russian nationals. Baker, who has spent more than two decades at the Justice Department across five presidential administrations, left the bureau last May after being reassigned by Christopher Wray, the FBI director who succeeded Comey. 

“Given the fact we have been focused on the Russians as a threat actor for a long, long time and given what was going on with respective e-mail dumps and hacking and the connection with those to the Russians in that summer and then this thing drops,” Baker said Friday at a Brookings Institution event in Washington, DC. “I think it would’ve been malpractice, dereliction of duty, that it would have even been highly, highly inappropriate for us not to pursue it—and pursue it aggressively.” It was important for him to speak out now, he added during a Friday Lawfare podcast, “to reassure the American people” that the Russia probe “was done for legit reasons.” That is, there was no Deep State conspiracy to get Trump—and he was not part of anything such thing.

In October, Baker drew headlines for telling members of the House Oversight Committee of a remark Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made to then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe about secretly recording Trump, an event described the previous month in stories by the New York Times and Washington Post. At the time, Rosenstein called the story inaccurate and Justice Department officials framed his suggestion as a joke, but Baker dismissed that explanation in his congressional testimony. “We were stunned and surprised,” he said. “I don’t think people laughed it off as a joke.” 

Despite the fact that Trump’s personal attacks on him has affected his life “negatively in numerous ways—both personally and professionally—over the past few years,” Baker wrote, he was attempting to “love Donald Trump as a human being.”

“I do not and will not respond to Donald Trump with hatred,” he noted. “Loving Donald Trump and loving his supporters is the best way for me to love America and to honor those who sacrificed so much for my freedom.”

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate