By Chuck Ross
Former FBI general counsel James Baker said Monday that he felt “distressed” after reading the Justice Department inspector general’s report laying out “significant” errors and omissions in the bureau’s applications to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
In an interview on CNN, Baker went further in his critique of the bureau than did FBI Director James Comey, who said Sunday that he believed the FBI was “sloppy” in its efforts to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants against Page.
“Sloppiness is completely unacceptable. That is not the way you operate in front of a federal court. I don’t know what word you want to use, it’s terrible, it’s unacceptable, it shouldn’t happen. That is not the way we should be filing matters in front of a federal court,” Baker told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
“I was distressed about it. I was completely distressed about it,” Baker said of his response to the inspector general’s (IG) findings.
Baker has testified that he personally reviewed the FISA applications against Page, given their political sensitivity.
The IG report laid out 17 “significant” omissions and errors in the Page FISA applications.
FBI agents and officials failed to disclose exculpatory information regarding Page in the applications, which asserted that the Trump aide was a Russian agent. The IG report said that the FBI relied heavily on the infamous Steele dossier in the applications, but had failed to verify any of the allegations in the document.
FBI agents also failed to disclose information that undermined allegations in the dossier and raised questions about the reliability of Steele and his sources. The IG report said that FBI agents failed to disclose that Steele’s primary source of information for the dossier told the FBI in January 2017 that Steele had misrepresented or exaggerated some of the most significant allegations about Donald Trump and Page.
Baker’s remarks are in stark contrast to his comments earlier this year about the FBI’s handling of the Steele dossier and the FISA applications.
In an interview on May 10 with Lawfare’s Benjamin Wittes, Baker insisted that the FISA applications were “sufficient” to show probable cause that Page was a Russian agent. He also said that it was “preposterous” to claim that the FBI would not have verified the Steele dossier.
“When a source shows up with a big stack of information, as in this case, you go to work. It came in from what appears to be a reliable source. He gives you all this information. Go to work. Try to validate it,”
“You don’t just swallow it hook, line and sinker. That’s not what we do. That’s preposterous. That does not happen,” said Baker, adding that the FBI “spent a lot of time” trying to vet information in the dossier.
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