Interview with James Baker. TRANSCRIPT: 5/10/19, The Rachel Maddow Show.

Guests:
James Baker
Transcript:

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  That is ALL IN for this evening.

 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.

 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris.  Thanks, my friend.  Much

appreciated.  Have a good weekend.

 

HAYES:  You bet.  Absolutely.  You, too.

 

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour.  Very happy to

have you here.  Big, big show for you tonight.  We`ve got a really big

interview tonight that I am both stressed about and excited about.

 

And, of course, because the news gods no longer celebrate weekends, or

TGIF, there`s a lot going on tonight just as we are getting close to air

time tonight.  Lots of news breaking, including this, that slipped into our

inboxes just before the close of business tonight.  You`ll see the all-

important headline there, subpoena, by authority of the House of

Representatives of the Congress of the United States of America.  Subpoena

to the Honorable Steve Mnuchin, secretary of the United States Department

of the Treasury and Charles Rettig, commissioner of the Internal Revenue

Service. 

 

Quote: You are hereby commanded to be and appear before the House Committee

on Ways and Means to produce the things identified on the attached schedule

for each of the tax years 2013 through 2018.  Number one, the federal

individual income tax returns of Donald J. Trump.  Number two, all

administrative files, work papers, affidavits, et cetera for each requested

federal individual income tax return of Donald J. Trump.  Number three, the

federal income tax returns for the following entities tied to the

president, including his revokable trust and number four, all

administrative files for each requested income tax return of the entities

listed above. 

 

Tonight, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the House,

Massachusetts Congressman Richard Neal issued these two subpoenas to the

head of the IRS and to the secretary of the treasury to get the president`s

tax returns. 

 

Now, part of the drama here and part of what`s interesting about this is

that this isn`t the exact same kind of fight as all of these other

confrontations we`re seeing right now in Washington.  Ways and Means

Committee Chairman Richard Neal is not supposed to need a subpoena to see

the president`s taxes.  Under federal law, he has the clear right to obtain

the tax returns of any American taxpayer for any legislative reason.  All

he`s supposed to do is say, give me that one, and the IRS says, yes, sir,

here you go. 

 

Nobody has ever broken this law before.  But this administration is just

refusing to turn over the president`s tax returns as they are required to

do under law.  So, the Ways and Means chairman took out his win, whipped up

the subpoenas tonight, demanding to see the president`s taxes, making it a

different kind of legally binding request than it already was.

 

Just like in his initial request a month ago, Chairman Richard Neal is

asking to see the last six years of the president`s taxes.  Now, the

deadline for the treasury and the IRS to comply with the subpoena is a week

from now, this coming Friday at 5:00 p.m. 

 

Now, this isn`t a total surprise.  We were expecting Congressman Richard

Neal, chairman of Ways and Means, we`re expecting him to announce some sort

of next steps today in terms of how he was going to try to force treasury

and the IRS to actually comply with this legal request.  We weren`t,

though, necessarily expecting a subpoena.  At least I wasn`t necessarily

expecting a subpoena. 

 

My expectations, I think some other people`s expectation was that Chairman

Neal might skip the subpoena and head straight to federal court.  “The New

York Times” spoke to a staffer on the Ways and Means Committee, who said

House lawyers ultimately decided not to do that.  They decided going

straight to the courts without going through the stuff with issuing

subpoenas might carry serious risk.  But the president and his

administration refusing to comply with any request for testimony or

documents, whether or not it comes with a fancy subpoena, it`s unclear

tonight if they`ve avoided that additional risk by issuing these subpoenas

tonight rather than going straight to court, whether it puts their demand

for these tax returns on stronger or weaker legal footing. 

 

We don`t know what the practical implications will be if the subpoena is

issued tonight to get the president`s tax returns.  We don`t know if the

Trump administration will be any more likely to comply now that we`ve had

this marginal escalation from Chairman Neal and it`s no longer a threat

that subpoenas might be coming.  They`ve actually arrived.

 

The Treasury Department confirmed tonight that they did receive the

subpoena.  We`ll keep you posted over the course of this hour if we hear

anything further. 

 

We`re also following the late breaking news tonight that came first from

“The Wall Street Journal” under this headline, quote, Don McGahn rebuffed

White House request to say Trump didn`t obstruct justice. 

 

You might remember in Robert Mueller`s report, Don McGahn recounts in

detail how the president ordered McGahn to fire special counsel Robert

Mueller.  Don McGahn said no.  He said he wouldn`t fire the special

counsel, said he would resign if the president tried to force him to do it. 

The president then told Don McGahn to create a false record denying any of

that ever happened.  McGahn also declined to do that. 

 

According to this new reporting from “The Wall Street Journal” tonight,

though, the president was not done asking Don McGahn for things even after

he left the White House.  Right after Robert Mueller`s report was submitted

to the Justice Department, after Mueller`s report was submitted to the

Justice Department and shown to the White House so they could see how Don

McGahn was this key witness to all of these alleged incidents of

obstruction of justice by the president, the president we now know from

this reporting in “The Wall Street Journal” later confirmed by “The New

York Times” and by NBC News, the president had his new White House counsel

reach out on behalf of the president, asking McGahn to put out a statement

telling the public that despite all of these things, Don McGahn described

to Robert Mueller which Mueller laid out as potentially incidents of the

president obstructing justice, the president wanted Don McGahn to make a

public statement saying that he, McGahn, even though he was a key witness

to these matters, he didn`t consider anything the president did to be

obstruction of justice. 

 

Once again, Don McGahn said no to that request from President Trump.  He

refused to put out that I didn`t think it was obstruction statement.  As I

mentioned, “The Wall Street Journal” was first.  “The New York Times” has

since matched this reporting in “The Journal.”

 

“The Times” actually adds that the president asked Don McGahn to make that

public claim that he didn`t think the president obstructed justice.  Not

once, but twice. 

 

The news that Don McGahn said no, that he refused this demand from the

president to publicly vouch for the president on obstruction issues, that

of course comes as the White House continues to say that Don McGahn will

not be allowed to obey a subpoena that requires him to testify before

Congress.  The House Judiciary committee wants him to come testify and to

provide documents to him – documents to them about what he testified to

Robert Mueller about.  The committee has subpoenaed him both for those

documents and for his testimony since he has defied the subpoena thus far

on the first part of it, which was the documents part of it, they have

threatened to hold him in contempt. 

 

I mean, the White House says they`re going to block Don McGahn from sitting

for questions later on this month.  We don`t exactly know how they are

going to do that.  But now after this bombshell reporting from “The Wall

Street Journal” tonight, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jerry

Nadler, says that this directive from the White House that McGahn must defy

the subpoenas, Nadler says that cannot stand.  Quote: This is why it is

critical for McGahn to come before our committee and answer questions for

the American people.  The president cannot keep Don McGahn from testifying,

says Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. 

 

So, like I said, the news gods do not believe in casual Fridays.  There is

a lot going on.  The news is a little topsy-turvy.  We`re going to keep you

posted throughout the hour if any of these spinning plates come crashing

down while we`re on the air. 

 

But I want to start tonight with some dramatic and headline-grabbing

testimony from James Comey.  Not the jaw-dropping congressional testimony

he gave in the summer of 2017 after he was fired as FBI director by

President Trump.  That`s when he detailed disturbing mafia-like

conversations with the president.  That`s when he told Congress, lordy, I

hope there were tapes.  Also not his testimony a few months earlier while

he was still FBI director and he announced publicly for the first time that

the FBI was investigating any potential coordination between the Trump

campaign and the Russian operatives who attacked the 2016 election as part

of the FBI`s counterintelligence authorities. 

 

No, this is different.  Super dramatic James Comey testimony.  This is

testimony he gave a full decade before all of that.  To give you an idea of

how long ago that was, when James Comey gave his testimony in May of 2007,

this is when George W. Bush was president.  This was when Barack Obama was

a first term senator.  This was when Rudy Giuliani was the leading

Republican presidential contender.  What? 

 

But James Comey told the Senate Judiciary Committee a story that was

absolutely riveting and it was about a confrontation he had had with the

George W. Bush White House when he was working in the Justice Department as

deputy attorney general.  He was in fact acting attorney general because

the current attorney general at the time John Ashcroft was in the hospital. 

 

And the story was about how he, James Comey, and some of his colleagues,

including Robert Mueller who was then the FBI director, they intercepted

top White House officials who were trying to get something done around

them, around their authority, by showing up at the hospital bed of the

seriously ill attorney general. 

 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

 

REPORTER:  Sounding like a movie plot, it happened three years ago in this

Washington, D.C. hospital.  Lying in bed there, the attorney general, John

Ashcroft.  Standing at his bedside, Alberto Gonzalez, then White House

counsel, and Andy Carr, the White House chief of staff. 

 

They wanted him to approve an extension of the secret NSA warrantless

eavesdropping program over strong Justice Department objections even though

Ashcroft was seriously ill.  Also there, the number two man of Justice,

James Comey, acting attorney general. 

 

He said today the scene started a crisis that nearly brought mass

resignations from the Justice Department. 

 

JAMES COMEY, THEN ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I thought I just witnessed an

effort to take advantage of a very sick man. 

 

REPORTER:  He said Ashcroft recited reasons why it should not be approved. 

Later that night, Comey says, an agitated Carr summoned him to the White

House. 

 

COMEY:  I responded that after the conduct I had just witnessed, I would

not meet with him without a witness present. 

 

REPORTER:  Eventually, Comey said President Bush diffused the cries

directing changes to the program based on Justice Department concerns. 

Senator Charles Schumer commended Comey for opposing the man who would

become his boss as attorney general. 

 

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY):  The story is a shocking one.  It makes you

almost gulp. 

 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

 

MADDOW:  There were several gulp moments in that testimony.  Comey

testified, told the Congress that day that when he heard White House

officials were heading to the sick attorney general`s hospital room to try

to get the ill attorney general to sign off on this warrantless

surveillance program that the Justice Department had already said they

wouldn`t sign off on. 

 

Comey and FBI Director Robert Mueller both raced to the hospital.  Robert

Mueller ordered FBI agents at the hospital to not allow Comey to be removed

from the attorney general`s hospital room under any circumstances.  But

after that hospital room confrontation, President Bush initially decided he

would just go ahead with this warrantless surveillance program without

Justice Department approval.  It was only when Comey and Mueller and a

whole bunch of other DOJ senior people threatened they would resign.  They

actually drafted their resignation letters that Bush finally backed down

and the program was changed to account for the legal objections to it at

the Justice Department. 

 

And that story about the hospital room confrontation, it`s a story you may

have heard.  It has resurfaced in recent years because the players from

that drama have come back into the public eye, in one way or the other. 

James Comey, of course, went on to succeed Robert Mueller as FBI director. 

Then after Comey was fired by President Trump, Robert Mueller was appointed

special counsel to investigate Comey`s firing among other things. 

 

And regardless of your feelings about Robert Mueller, regardless of your

feelings about James Comey, I know you have a lot of them, regardless of

your feelings about the Bush administration`s warrantless surveillance

programs and all the surveillance programs that have descended from them, I

think that that hospital room confrontation story remains compelling and

keeps getting told over and over again because it is this clear and

dramatic story of government officials standing up against something they

viewed as illegal.  Blocking the White House and White House officials from

doing something they believed was illegal, going to physically dramatic

extremes in order to stop that thing from happening, threatening to resign

unless the White House did the right thing, forcing the White House to do

the right thing by their integrity and by their standing up and by their

being unafraid of the consequences. 

 

And so, it`s a parable about the people involved in it.  It`s important as

they go on to becoming interesting and important characters in American

history.  It`s also something that`s important for us to tell ourselves as

Americans in terms of what we value and expect and respect when it comes to

integrity and bravery from public officials who are in powerful positions. 

I think we as Americans just like to know that sometimes happens. 

 

And so, here`s something else to know about that time, and about that

incident in American history.  James Comey and Robert Mueller have been

sort of the stars of that story every time that it`s been told ever since. 

But James Comey and Robert Mueller were not the point of the spear.  They

were not the first people at the Bush Justice Department to raise the alarm

about that illegal warrantless eavesdropping program that the White House

had started.  They weren`t the first people to try to stop it basically,

put their own jobs on the line in order to stop it. 

 

When an inspector general`s report about that whole debacle is finally

released to the public in 2015, we learned that the first person at the

Justice Department to raise red flags, to try to stop it, to insist that

program had to be put on a real legal footing or it could not proceed, the

first person who actually did that, who threw himself on the machinery was

the head of the Justice Department`s office of intelligence policy, a man

who was named James Baker. 

 

Not a high-profile position at that time.  Not a high-profile Justice

Department official, but somebody who played an incredibly important role

and did it first in that standoff. 

 

From that inspector general`s report, quote: James Baker told us while

standing outside the Justice Department one evening several weeks after the

nine 11 attacks he was approached by an FBI colleague who said, quote,

there`s something spooky going on, it appears domestic communications are

being collected without a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence

Surveillance, and that, quote, some FBI personnel were getting nervous. 

 

Baker said several weeks later while reviewing a FISA application a

particular passage in that application leapt out at him.  He couldn`t

figure out where the information that was being cited in that application

had come from.  He surmised it might have come from this program that he

had not been read in on but had been warned there was something spooky

going on. 

 

James Baker chased it down.  Alone.  When he finally convinced someone to

tell him what the heck was going on, he says he immediately felt that

spying program was on shaky legal footing.  It was legally problematic and

he refused to take those surveillance warrant applications to the court,

unless the court would be informed of the program.  Those judges were being

asked to sign off on surveillance applications.  They actually didn`t know

where the information in those applications was coming from.  He insisted

that the court be told. 

 

The White House resisted.  At least one official at the Bush White House

tried to have him fired for him resisting it.  But James Baker at the

Justice Department was convinced he was right and he was stubborn and

eventually he won.  The White House had been intent on going around that

court and overtly denying the court any information about that new spying

program and they ended up getting forced to inform the court about it

because of the way James Baker stood up to him. 

 

I mean, more officials – he convinced more officials he was right about it

and more officials raised objections.  The program ultimately became

public.  Congress intervened to craft legislation.  And again, you may not

be a big fan of the legislation Congress ultimately created about this, but

before people like James Baker started raising red flags and saying, no,

I`m not signing off on this, I`m not letting this go forward, this was a

spying program that was being run more or less off the books without any

court oversight at all.  Just by the White House. 

 

The inspector general report on this spying program which was a program

code named Stellar Wind.  This report was put together by inspectors

general from five different agencies.  On this matter, it concluded with

this quote: We believe that the Justice Department and FBI officials who

resisted the pressure to recertify the Stellar Wind program because of

their beliefs that aspects of the program were not legally supportable,

those officials act courageously and at personal pro-life risk. 

 

The inspectors general highlight several by name, including Robert Mueller

and James Comey and James Baker, singled them out by name to say they

acted, quote, in accord with the highest professional standards of the

Justice Department.  When James Comey became director of the FBI years

later, he tapped that same James Baker, praised for his integrity in that

earlier confrontation with the Republican White House, he picked James

Baker to be his general counsel, to be the top legal official at the FBI. 

That is a position of immense importance and trust at that agency.  A

person who serves as general counsel is almost always hand picked by the

FBI director. 

 

And so James Baker was there at the very top of the FBI`s top legal job at

the FBI when the country first started to realize within law enforcement

and intelligence circles that Russia was attacking the 2016 election for

the purpose of Trump to get Donald Trump installed in the White House and

they were simultaneously becoming aware that there were numerous, numerous,

numerous somewhat inexplicable contacts between a particular presidential

campaign which happened to be the Trump campaign and people associated with

the Kremlin at the same time that that Russian attack was going on. 

 

And that must have been a remarkable thing to go through, right?  In 2016. 

To be a senior intelligence leadership role, to realize what was happening. 

Call on all of your years of experience, all of your personal gumption to

deal with this absolutely unprecedented situation, to run a

counterintelligence investigation into a hostile foreign power`s operation

targeting our election while that election was ongoing and while there

appeared to be numerous unexplained contacts between the party in the

United States that was benefiting from that foreign intervention and people

associated with that foreign power. 

 

What is even more remarkable since then is how all of those people who were

in all of those leadership roles at the time that attack was happening,

they were realizing what was going on, they were starting the

investigations into it.  All of the people in senior leadership, law

enforcement and intelligence roles at that time have just been

systematically destroyed by the Trump administration ever since, right? 

 

James Comey, of course, was fired.  His deputy who became acting FBI

director as soon as Comey was fired, Andrew McCabe, got fired, got his

pension reduced on the way out the door, has been referred for possible

prosecution. 

 

Peter Strzok was the lead counterintelligence agent in the FBI, a veteran

Russia counterintelligence agent.  He gets forced out.  His reputation

destroyed. 

 

Bruce Ohr, the senior person in the Justice Department on Russian

transnational crime and money laundering, he escapes by the skin of his

teeth, still technically has a job right now but has moved into a basement

filing room or something and is basically daily attacked by the president

and increasingly by Republicans in Congress as well. 

 

Former CIA director, the man who was CIA director at the time of the Russia

attack and at the time the investigation into it started, John Brennan gets

his security clearance yanked by President Trump. 

 

He also put out a list of other Obama national security officials whose

security clearances he might try to yank, including the national security

adviser at the time of the attack, the deputy attorney general who became

the acting attorney general who came to the White House and warned them

about their national security adviser being compromised by Russia, the

director of national intelligence at the time.  He puts them all in a list,

his enemies list, saying they might have their security clearances revoked

too because of their, quote, baseless accusations of improper contact with

Russia.  I don`t need to mention that there are now more than 100 pages of

a report by none other than Robert Mueller that say those accusations were

far from baseless. 

 

I mean, all of these people with all of these decades of leadership

experience, with all of this subject matter expertise, the people who were

in all the key roles of trying to understand and assess and help the

country understand and assess the attack by Russia, people trying to

understand that attack and thwart it and get to the bottom of it, people

who led that effort are all the ones who have paid the price for it. 

 

That includes James Baker who was the top legal official at the FBI. 

President attacked James Baker by name several times for his ostensible

role in this witch hunt and the Russia hoax.  Fox News and other

conservative media outlets have repeatedly pilloried James Baker for

supposedly being part of some plot to mount a coup.  James Baker left the

FBI a year after James Comey was fired. 

 

All of that time of being a punching bag for the president and his

supporters, James Baker could not speak publicly about what he actually did

as a top national security official during the Russian attack.  He couldn`t

talk about the investigation into Russia and into the Trump campaign.  He

couldn`t say what he knew. 

 

But now he can.  With the Mueller report completed and released to the

public, with his testimony to the Judiciary Committee on these matters

having been released to the public by Republicans on that committee,

somewhat inexplicably, former FBI general counsel James Baker says he`s

able to speak out on these matters that have at least now become public

knowledge.  And we`re about to find out, but it sounds like what he wants

the American people to know is despite the unprecedented situation, despite

the pressure of the time, he says the FBI did things by the book.  We

should have confidence in what they did. 

 

Today, at an event at the Brookings Institution where he was interviewed by

Benjamin Wittes from Lawfare.  James Baker told Wittes that had the

situation not been done by the book, had it been improperly launched

investigation, quote, he would not have tolerated it whatsoever. 

 

This was James Baker today.  Quote: I have gone to the mat in the past in

my career with stuff that I thought was inappropriate.  There was no way in

hell I was going to allow some coup or coup attempt to take place on my

watch or any conspiracy to do anything unlawful.  No way. 

 

And, of course, when James Baker says he would go to the mat over something

he sees as unlawful, he would threaten to resign if he needed to to stop

it, there`s reason to believe it.  He has cashed that check before, right? 

He has done it before. 

 

And now, tonight, he`s here to talk to us about what it was like to be at

the top of the FBI during this remarkable period in our history, what it`s

like to be targeted in the way he has been since then.  James Baker joins

us live in studio, next. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  The man who`s here for the interview tonight is the former general

counsel of the FBI.  He served as the agency`s top lawyer from January 2014

to December of 2017.  As that top FBI lawyer, James Baker was in the room

for many of the major decisions made during the FBI`s investigation into

Russian interference in the 2016 election and, of course, the issue of

potential coordination with people associated with the Trump campaign. 

Baker is currently the director of national security and cyber security at

the R Street Institute, which is a nonprofit public policy research

organization. 

 

Mr. Baker, thank you very being here.  It`s a real honor to have you here. 

 

JAMES BAKER, FORMER FBI GENERAL COUNSEL:  Thank you for having me. 

 

MADDOW:  You spent more than 20 years at the Justice Department and the

FBI.  Since you left last year, you have been under investigation by the

inspector general for handling of the investigation of the president`s

campaign.  You`re the subject of a criminal investigation over alleged

leaks to the media. 

 

The president has made a sport out of suggesting that you personally acted

in treasonously and attempted coup.  You`ve become a star in media that

always pillorying you.  I – just as a human being, the transition in your

life before to your life after just feels precipitous. 

 

How are you? 

 

BAKER:  I`m fine.  Thank you for asking.  Yes.

 

It`s been, you know, horrible basically.  It`s – and I`ve used the word

trauma to describe what happened with respect to starting with the Clinton

investigation all the way through starting the Russia investigation and the

transition, the Comey firing, and the kinds of things you outlined before

with Andy McCabe and everybody else. 

 

These were people I`ve worked with every day, these – especially with Jim

Comey.  I`ve known him for years.  He`s my friend.  I care about him

deeply. 

 

I think he`s a fantastic leader and he got fired in a way that was

terrible.  It was very humiliating – in a very humiliating way.  And so

that was really hard. 

 

It was a traumatic experience to go through, and quite frankly, having it

talked about endlessly in the media, it doesn`t help.  You sort of have

like relived it every day and there`s no escape.  It`s just on everywhere. 

So, it`s been challenging. 

 

MADDOW:  I did a podcast last year about Spiro Agnew and the way his vice

presidency ended and one of the signs that the end was nigh with Agnew,

that things were really getting bad was when in speeches he started naming

individual Justice Department officials and individual prosecutors who he

believed should not just be blamed for what he was going through, but he

wanted his supporters to go after them.  He wanted to train national ire

and his supporters` ire on people who individually and by name and by title

he would call out.  It sort of seemed like the point at which a lot of

people realized Agnew was going to be over and eventually he was forced to

plead in court in a 40-count indictment and he has to resign, the whole

thing. 

 

It`s now common not only from the president himself but from the

president`s supporters, from the conservative media, from now Republicans

in Congress to not just name people like you individually and to take you

on by title and as a person, but to pursue you.  To say that you`re the

scandal and that you and all of the other colleagues involved in the outset

of this investigation, you are the problem in the country. 

 

I feel like this is unprecedented.  I felt the only thing I`ve ever seen

like this before is Agnew.  Do you feel like this ever snaps back?  Do you

feel like it`s now become normalized and this would be the way we do it

from here on out? 

 

BAKER:  I`m pretty concerned about that.  I mean, it seems like it`s become

normalized and quite frankly that`s part of the reason I wanted to start to

speak out more now, because it shouldn`t be and people who disagree with

some of these views need to speak out and try to do the best they can.  But

I`m worried about it, yes. 

 

I think it could have a significant negative impact in the long run,

because people are worried about their careers.  People are worried about

their reputations.  And when the president of the United States starts to

go at you on Twitter, it`s an out of body experience as I`ve described it. 

It`s unnerving. 

 

And if you`re concerned about your reputation or your long-term career,

you`re going to be I think more likely to be hesitant to do things that

will attract that type of ire. 

 

MADDOW:  Do you believe that the president`s actions of this type or indeed

the specific allegations of obstructive conduct that were described in the

Mueller report, any of those behaviors by the president have materially

affected the behavior of the Justice Department or the FBI?  Do you know of

investigations either being curtailed or delayed or kyboshed or softened or

not taken up because of the types of worries that you`re describing? 

 

BAKER:  Not that I can confirm.  So, I`ve heard rumors to that effect.  I

can`t confirm it.  The FBI is the FBI and the Justice Department, the

career officials there are – it`s a highly resilient professional

organization, both of organizations, and they`re going to resist that kind

of thing as much as they can.  But to think that it won`t have some effect

as they pursue certain types of investigations, especially as they start to

touch the political system or political leaders, that`s what you have to

worry about. 

 

And the FBI really is a specialist in dealing with public corruption in

government.  And so, if they are intimidated in any way, then yeah, that`s

very dangerous.  Again, they`re very professional.  I think they`ll resist

that.  But it`s a risk. 

 

MADDOW:  And when you say that you`ve heard rumors that that dynamic may be

at work, you mean currently? 

 

BAKER:  Yes. 

 

MADDOW:  Can you say anything else about that? 

 

BAKER:  No.  It`s speculation.  It`s rumors that I`ve heard.  I don`t want

to go any farther than that.  Whether it`s true or not, it`s something to

worry about. 

 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about the other side of the coin.  There was an

awkward moment last week in the Senate Judiciary Committee when Senator

Kamala Harris of California was asking questions of Attorney General Barr

and she asked if the president or the White House had ever put pressure on

the Justice Department, put pressure on the attorney general to initiate an

investigation against the president – against one of the president`s

enemies for legal purposes and attorney general bar wouldn`t answer

directly. 

 

Since then, we have seen the president openly called for former Secretary

of State John Kerry to be prosecuted and he says he`s talked to people

about that.  Since then, we`ve seen the president`s Republican allies in

Congress say that they want to at least pursue congressional investigations

of FBI and Justice Department personnel who were involved in the Russia

investigation. 

 

That side of it, not just getting shy about things they might otherwise

pursue, but actually being used as a weapon against the president`s

enemies, that seems so far fetched to me for so long and now I feel like

the attorney general is denying that possibility.  Are you worried about

that, too? 

 

BAKER:  Well, I have great respect for the attorney general.  I`ve worked

with him in the past.  When he was general counsel at Verizon, he hired me

there.  I have viewed him as a person of integrity. 

 

Obviously, this kind of conduct is outside of the norm of what we`re used

to where the president is recommending criminal investigations and/or

prosecutions of individual citizens, and so that`s alarming.  And again, it

would require the Department of Justice, individuals in the Department of

Justice to resist that kind of thing if they didn`t think it was warranted. 

 

So, it`s just not normal for this country to have political leaders,

especially the president of the United States, singling out individual

people and saying that they should be investigated or prosecuted.  As you

say, he`s doing it very blatantly.  He has done it consistently over time. 

 

MADDOW:  I try to imagine you talk about somebody with integrity in the

Justice Department standing up and stopping that from happening.  I try to

imagine what that would look like in real time right now, and the person

stepping forward and saying, I was given an improper order or suggestion to

do something and I`ll an employee of this Justice Department but I know

it`s wrong.  Just imagine what happened to that person in this environment. 

 

BAKER:  You have to be willing to resign or to go to Congress or the

inspector general.  You have to be willing to give up your career.  I mean,

I think – I`ve thought about this a lot.  The only way to be successful in

my opinion as a national security lawyer in particular is to be willing to

have your career destroyed, because if you fear it, if you`re afraid that

will happen, you won`t be able to have – frankly, you won`t have the

courage, I think, to do the things you need to do and say the things you

need to say if you`re afraid of somehow sacrificing – if you`re afraid

that your career will be messed up.  You have to take it as a given is what

I`m trying to say. 

 

MADDOW:  Were you afraid of the effect on your career before you took some

of the actions you took here? 

 

BAKER:  Absolutely, sure.  Absolutely.  Yes.

 

MADDOW:  And you did it anyway? 

 

BAKER:  I did it anyway because it seemed like I was being entrusted by the

American people with certain responsibilities and I had a duty to do what I

thought was right and to do what I thought they would expect me to do, to

do what I was being paid for.  And also honestly in the long run, to be –

to do things I thought my children and my family would be proud of me doing

when it eventually came out because all this stuff eventually comes out. 

And so, I think you have to think of the long-term interests of yourself

and the country and not your short-term career interests. 

 

MADDOW:  Former FBI General Counsel James Baker is our guest.  We`ll be

right back right after this. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  We`re joined again by former FBI general counsel, James Baker. 

Mr. Baker is able to talk to us about some of these things in part because

the Mueller report has now been published so it frees to speak about

matters you otherwise couldn`t talk about. 

 

I have a question about the Mueller report and about what it doesn`t say

that I was expecting it to say.  So, I have a parallel (ph) here. 

 

One issue is Mike Flynn getting fired which is something that unfolded

while you were general counsel of the FBI.  Speaks to the Russian

ambassador, he publicly lies about it.  Ultimately, he also lies to the FBI

about it, right, and that`s all interesting.  That becomes part of a guilty

plea and he lied to the FBI. 

 

But there was another thing we came to learn about his case.  Sally Yates

as acting attorney general goes up to the White House in the first week of

the new administration to tell them not just that Mike Flynn has been in

contact with the Russians but that there`s a problem because Flynn had that

contact, the Russians know he had that contact because that`s who he was

talking to and Flynn is lying about it publicly. 

 

That means that the Russians have something on Flynn.  They know about his

contacts with them.  They can leverage that against him.  He`s in a

compromised position therefore, regard to the Russian government, which is

very dangerous as national security adviser. 

 

That counter – so, we learned the criminal part of what Flynn did,

including lying to the FBI.  But that counterintelligence concern is what

leads us the American people to understand why it was so important that he

had to go. 

 

I feel like there is a very similar situation with Trump Tower Moscow.  The

Mueller report describes all this factual detail about all the contacts

between the Kremlin and Kremlin-connected people and the Trump

organization, about trying to do that Russia deal.  And we know that the

president was lying about it at the time, nothing in the Mueller report

about whether or not that reflects any compromise, any effort to gain

leverage over that presidential candidate, that campaign, ultimately our

government. 

 

I feel like that`s the missing piece.  Was that investigation not done? 

 

BAKER:  Well, I think the Mueller report makes clear that what they focused

on were the criminal aspects of the counterintelligence investigation that

was being conducted.  So when the FBI investigates something, it comes to

it with all of its authority, which include counterintelligence authorities

and criminal authorities and foreign intelligence collection authorities. 

All the authorities under law and under attorney general guidelines that

the bureau has, it brings to the problem.  And certain aspects of a

situation could be criminal and some might be counterintelligence. 

 

And so, what I think is missing in large part from the report is an

analysis of the counter intelligence aspects of what it is that they found. 

I think it`s either in the report or in some collateral documents where

they make quite clear that we`re not talking about that here.  We had

embedded FBI agents with us to deal with the counterintelligence

investigation and that`s some other file, some other thing that may or may

not be under the report. 

 

MADDOW:  And in fact, in that part of the Mueller`s report where they

describe having other FBI agents who were basically sitting in and gleaning

anything that had intelligence consequences and passing them into other

parts of the FBI, they explicitly say those agents weren`t part of

Mueller`s investigation.  So, does that mean that Mueller didn`t do a

counterintelligence investigation? 

 

I mean, on this question, for example, of Trump Tower Moscow, was there an

FBI assessment as to whether or not that was an effort to gain leverage

over that presidential campaign? 

 

BAKER:  I don`t think I can confirm or deny that particular thing.  But the

FBI is the entity that would be empowered to deal with counterintelligence

aspects of this.  Mueller is like, and he says in the report, he`s like –

he was like a U.S. attorney.  So, he`s a prosecutor.  The FBI is – can

investigate crimes, but it`s also part of the intelligence community and it

has different authorities as a result of that under a different supervisory

structure. 

 

So Mueller I don`t think – it`s not fair to really think he was tasked

with conducting a purely counterintelligence investigation.  He was tasked

with at least as I thought about it dealing with the criminal aspects of

the larger counterintelligence investigation. 

 

MADDOW:  Does anybody out there have to tell – I mean, we the American

people or perhaps more importantly the intelligence committees in Congress,

whether there was Russian leverage over the campaign?  Whether those

contacts and for example the Trump Tower Moscow deal amounted to perhaps a

successful or even unsuccessful effort to gain the leverage? 

 

I mean, the Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff now says he hasn`t

had a briefing on the intelligence implications or findings of any

investigation related to this stuff since Comey was fired. 

 

BAKER:  So I can say how I used to handle it and I used to handle it

thinking that the intelligence committees were an integral part of how the

United States conducts intelligence and how we maintain the – we the

intelligence community maintain the trust and confidence of the American

people because they need to know that their representatives get access to

critical information so that they can understand it. 

 

But, look, one of the things is, the reality is that the intelligence

community is under the command of the president.  And so, at the end of the

day, it`s the president`s job to deal with the intelligence threats that we

face as a country. 

 

MADDOW:  Even if they implicate him? 

 

BAKER:  Well, so, we haven`t had to deal with this kind of thing before, so

that`s tricky, and how you do that is very difficult.  So, I think this is

a place where, for example, the director of national intelligence could

step in and try to handle some of these things in a certain way.  I`m not

going to describe it as a recusal by the president, but it would be safer

and advisable for the president to sort of stay out of this part of it

unless he really has to and delegate some of that authority to the DNI. 

 

MADDOW:  It is so chilling to me this is still a total black box to us.  I

have more questions in this matter and others. 

 

James Baker is the former FBI general counsel.  We`ll be right back with

him after this. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  We are back with former FBI general counsel James Baker.  Thank

you for being here, Mr. Baker. 

 

BAKER:  My pleasure. 

 

MADDOW:  Part of the way the Republicans and conservative media have come

after you and some of your colleagues is in part by trying to problematize

the idea that there were people during the campaign who came across

information they believed was worrying on national security terms related

to Russia, related to the Russian attack, related potentially to the Trump

campaign, and they brought that information to the FBI.  And that itself is

being defined as a scandal, that you as an FBI official received that

information and passed it on to investigators, that other people in Justice

Department or FBI leadership roles were given information and passed it on. 

 

What do you make of that sort of becoming the source of scandal?  I worry

that they`re trying to say nobody should bring information to the FBI if

they find something that they`re worried about. 

 

BAKER:  That would be a huge problem.  The FBI depends on the trust and

confidence of the American people and on people coming forward with all

kinds of threatening information, especially in counterterrorism.  But with

respect to all types of violations of federal criminal law and intelligence

threats, whatever it is that they think poses a threat to the country or is

a violation of law, they should bring it forward to the FBI.  They should

feel comfortable doing that. 

 

MADDOW:  Do you think that any – you or anybody in the FBI or the Justice

Department mishandled any sort of tip or proffered intelligence or the

Steele dossier, or any meetings or anything in terms of the receipt of

information which has been problematized again by Republicans and the

conservative media?  Do you think any of that was mishandled? 

 

BAKER:  Well, so that`s the broad question, I don`t know everything we took

it from every source.  I can`t talk about that. 

 

MADDOW:  Uh-huh.

 

BAKER:  The information I took in which became the subject of discussions

when I was being interviewed, I felt as though it was lawful for me to

obtain that information.  It was authorized under FBI policies and

procedures, FBI employees are authorized to accept information from the

public, so I thought it was OK. 

 

One other thing with respect to all this that has gotten me is that –

look, we take in this information, but we don`t swallow it hook, line, and

sinker.  We take – we have a jaundiced eye with respect to the information

we get.  We take it seriously, but vet it.  And we don`t just assume it`s

correct because someone is proffering it to us. 

 

And we do question on a regular basis why is this person bringing us this

information, what is it, how reliable is it, let`s scrutinize it.  Let`s

not, you know, sort of ignore it, but let`s take it seriously, but vet it

thoroughly. 

 

MADDOW:  In terms of sources of information to the FBI, the FBI has tip

lines. 

 

BAKER:  Yes, absolutely. 

 

MADDOW:  The FBI has – opens themselves up to public information. 

 

BAKER:  On tip lines, online, many ways you can submit threat (ph)

information to the FBI.  People should if they have been. 

 

MADDOW:  The idea that opposition that was funded by one side of a

political campaign might have turned up something that people gave to the

FBI because they were concerned about it or because they were hoping for an

FBI investigation that would turn up something damning about the opposite

candidate.  Is that an improper source of information? 

 

It seems to me like private investigators, opposition researchers, opposing

political campaigns might at any time turn up something they were

legitimately concerned about.  I`m worried at that point – at this point

that that itself has been defined as such a scandal that these things won`t

go to the authorities anymore. 

 

BAKER:  Well, look, with respect to this information that came to us, my

recollection is that we knew that it was coming from that type of source,

and therefore, we had to be skeptical about it.  We should have been

skeptical about it.  But it didn`t mean it was wrong. 

 

So, it had to be vetted and analyzed, but with the origin of it in mind,

right?  So, we didn`t ignore that.  We took it into consideration, but we

didn`t ignore the information itself and whether it could have been true. 

 

MADDOW:  James Baker, former general counsel at the FBI who has been

through a hell of a couple years, actually an amazing career, but really a

hell of a couple years.  Thank you for coming in and talking to us tonight. 

I appreciate the trust level that needed to happen for you to be able to

it.  Thanks. 

 

BAKER:  Thank you.  Appreciate it.  Thanks for the time. 

 

MADDOW:  I don`t know how things are going to go for you from hereon out,

but when you want to come in and talk about what`s going on, please come

back here. 

 

BAKER:  OK, thank you. 

 

MADDOW:  All right.  Thanks.  We`ll be right back.  Stay with us. 

 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

 

MADDOW:  That does it for us tonight.  I was so excited for that interview. 

I can`t believe we had James Baker here talk about all this stuff.  That

was amazing. 

 

All right.  I have to tell you something about Monday night show.  Beto

O`Rourke is going to be here, former Texas congressman, current candidate

for the Democratic nomination for president.  First time he has been here

since he`s announced that he`s running for president.  That`s Monday night

right here on set. 

 

Now, it`s time for “THE LAST WORD” with Joy Reid filling in for Lawrence

tonight.

 

Good evening, Joy.

                                                                                                               

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