WASHINGTON (SBG)- Federal prosecutors have informed the former top lawyer at the Federal Bureau of Investigation that he is under scrutiny as part of a criminal probe, sources confirmed to Sinclair Broadcast Group.
A lawyer for James Baker, the former general counsel to the FBI, told congressional investigators last year that his client is under criminal investigation by the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, according to documents released this week by House Republicans, in connection with a case involving unauthorized leaks to the news media. The lawyer, Daniel Levin, cited the criminal probe as a reason for preventing his client from answering the lawmakers' questions about contacts Baker may have had with reporters.
The unusual moment came during Baker's testimony on Oct. 18 before a joint panel of Republican and Democratic lawmakers from the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, pursued a line of questioning about alleged contacts between Baker and reporters David Corn of Mother Jones and Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News. That prompted Levin, Baker's Washington-based attorney, to intervene, citing the pending investigation out of Connecticut, according to excerpts from the transcript of the session that Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.,included in a Jan. 15 letter to the U.S. attorney handling the leak case, John H. Durham.
"You’re saying he’s under criminal investigation? That’s why you’re not letting him answer?" Meadows cut in after Levin's objection. "Yes," Levin answered. "I didn't want [Baker] talking about interactions with reporters because there is an ongoing leak investigation."
Sources close to the case said the leak probe in Connecticut is unrelated to the multiple investigations centered around President Trump and Russia. Baker left the FBI last May, a few months after he was relieved of his duties and reassigned by the new FBI director, Christopher Wray. Baker has not been charged with wrongdoing in any jurisdiction. Congressional Republicans, however, have been focused on the former top lawyer at the FBI as they have probed whether officials there and at the Department of Justice abused the process for obtaining a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against Carter Page, a Trump campaign aide, during the closing weeks of the 2016 election.
"Mostly we want to know because we think the American people should know what was going on when the FBI launched this investigation into the Trump campaign," Jordan told Sinclair in an interview Thursday.
Baker's attorney declined to comment, as did the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Connecticut.
At the same time, excerpts from the sealed testimony of another former high-ranking law enforcement official also surfaced publicly. Sinclair has confirmed that Bruce Ohr -- the former associate deputy attorney general who was relieved of his duties last year when it was disclosed that his wife, Nellie, had worked for the firm that compiled a salacious opposition-research dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump -- told House lawmakers that he warned his superiors about the political origins of that dossier back in 2016.
In excerpts from Ohr's testimony first published in The Hill, the former DOJ official asserted that he had disclosed to his superiors his wife's connection to Fusion GPS, the firm that hired former British spy Christopher Steele to compile the dossier and which was paid by agents of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to do so. Ohr also told lawmakers he informed the FBI, which had previously utilized Steele as a confidential source, that the former spy was "desperate that Trump not be elected." "These guys were hired by somebody relating to, who’s related to the Clinton campaign," Ohr told lawmakers in July 2016, according to excerpts from his testimony independently obtained by Sinclair Broadcast Group.
At issue is the reliance by senior DOJ and FBI officials on the Democratic-funded Steele dossier when they secured a FISA warrant to spy on Carter Page, the Trump campaign aide, in October 2016. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., maintains that the classified FISA application documents used in the Page case nowhere disclosed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved the surveillance, the political origins and motivations of the central evidence that was submitted to the court.
"They have an absolute duty to disclose that it was paid for by the opposing party," Nunes told Sinclair. "They would need to tell the court that the person gathering the information -- in this case, Christopher Steele -- that he was desperate that Donald Trump not be elected....This is information that they knew long in advance" of submitting the FISA application, Nunes added.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the new chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has maintained in a declassified memo that Ohr's disclosures to his superiors occurred weeks after the election and "more than a month after the [FISA] court approved the initial application" for surveillance on Page. Yet Ohr's testimony contradicts that timeline, with the former DOJ official placing his disclosures to his superiors about Steele, and Nellie Ohr, in July 2016.
Former FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress in December that he personally signed the FISA application against Page, but that he couldn't recall whether the application relied on the Steele dossier.