Former FBI general counsel James Baker said Friday he viewed the Steele dossier “skeptically” and was “concerned” about the veracity of the document when the bureau received it before the 2016 election.
But despite those concerns, Baker was one of the FBI officials who reviewed the Carter Page surveillance warrant application, which relied heavily on information from the dossier.
The dossier, which former British spy Christopher Steele wrote, has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the special counsel’s report, which undercut Steele’s core claim of a “well-developed conspiracy of co-ordination” between the Kremlin and Trumpworld.
Steele, who worked during the 2016 campaign for the Clinton campaign and DNC, alleged Page was one of the Trump campaign’s liaisons to the Kremlin. The first of four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants was granted against Page on Oct. 21, 2016.
“It was more information that we viewed, that I viewed, skeptically from the outset, and I was concerned about it and had a jaundiced eye, or looked at it with a jaundiced eye right from the outset,” Baker told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd.
“Steele was and had been a source that we thought was reliable. He’s reporting all this information. It looks alarming. We took it seriously, but we tried to vet it.”
Steele first provided information from his Trump investigation July 5, 2016, but his reports reportedly did not make their way to the FBI team leading the Trump probe until mid-September 2016. The FBI was aware Steele was working for Democrats, and that he had told a Justice Department official he was “desperate” to see Trump lose the 2016 election.
Baker, who resigned from office in May 2018, is considered an expert on FISA. He was the top Justice Department official in the office that handles FISAs before joining the FBI. He has testified to Congress that he rarely reviewed FISA applications in his FBI job, but made an exception for the Carter Page application.
Baker said Friday he believes FISAs against Page would have been granted even without the dossier. He also declined to say whether Steele’s reporting was used to obtain other FISA warrants.
“Based on my recollection of my facts at the time…my answer to that question is that, I think the answer is yes, that I think there was sufficient probable cause in the application even without that information.”
When asked whether the dossier was used for other FISA warrants, Baker dodged the question.
“I don’t think I should comment on that, I’m not sure what else the government has confirmed,” he said.
“I don’t want to confirm or deny anything about other potential FISA applications.”
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