A former top FBI lawyer said there was concern at the bureau that then-FBI Director James Comey was trying to blackmail then-President-elect Donald Trump with the notorious Steele dossier.
On Tuesday’s Yahoo News podcast “Skullduggery,” James Baker described the atmosphere as “quite worried” after Comey met with Trump on Jan. 6, 2017, shortly before his inauguration. Baker says the way Comey threw the dossier into Trump’s face, it was difficult not to draw “analogies” to the behavior of FBI founding Director J. Edgar Hoover, who ruled federal law enforcement for nearly 50 years.
The dossier, containing allegations that Trump demanded perverse sex from Russian prostitutes, has been pilloried by some as an invention. During Congressional testimony, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen said he had never been to Prague, where the dossier contends Cohen went to collude with Kremlin officials on Russian election meddling.
Investigative reporter Michael Isikoff, who met with Steele, has said that there are a myriad of problems with the dossier.
“I think it’s fair to say that all of us should have approached this, in retrospect, with more skepticism, particularly when we didn’t know where it was coming from,” Isikoff told Vanity Fair.
Daniel Hoffman, who spent 30 years in the CIA, has also questioned the validity of the dossier, suggesting it looks like business-as-usual for the Russians whom he says may have engineered a disinformation campaign. Hoffman communicated these concerns in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal in January 2018 entitled, “The Steele Dossier Fits the Kremlin Playbook.”
Attorney General William Barr, while testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee this month, also suggested the dossier might be Russian disinformation.
Comey insists it has some validity, even telling CNN that there is an “oblique reference” to the veracity of the information in the Mueller report. (RELATED: ‘Jackass’ Comey Believed Steele Dossier Says Giuliani)
“We were quite worried about the Hoover analogies, and we were determined not to have such a disaster happen on our watch,” Baker told Yahoo, referring to how Hoover successfully remained in control of the FBI because he knew the secret lives of American presidents.
Baker says although he can’t remember when he first learned of the dossier’s existence he believed the FBI needed to take the document “seriously” and were “obligated to deal with it.” Baker admits the bureau always had doubt about the dossier’s authenticity, and says Trump needed to know about it because the document was “about to be disclosed to the press.” BuzzFeed published the salacious, arguably dubious details Jan. 10, 2017.
A report last week based on Department of State documents alleges that former MI6 agent Christopher Steele only provided the dossier as fodder for the Hillary Clinton election campaign and that the FBI was probably aware of this confession.
Baker and Comey clashed over whether to tell Trump he was being investigated as part of the overall probe into Russian interference. While Baker said Trump “fell into that category,” Comey maintained the president was not a subject of investigation until the day he was fired. (RELATED: James Comey Has ‘Never Thought’ Of Electronic Surveillance ‘As Spying’)
The former bureau lawyer said he concurs with those who want to know who pushed for an investigation into Russian meddling that ended up targeting the Trump campaign.
“I welcome scrutiny,” Baker told Yahoo. “I plan to fully cooperate with the department to help them figure out what happened. Because I believe what happened was lawful, at least based on every piece of information that I have.”