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

Guests: James Baker

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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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. 


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.                                                                                                                 THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END