Former top FBI attorney James Baker, who now serves as Twitter’s deputy general counsel, has had a spotlight thrown on him after billionaire Elon Musk, who recently negotiated a deal to buy Twitter, responded to comments about Baker’s past actions during the FBI’s Russia investigation in 2016.
On April 26, a day after Musk reportedly reached an agreement with Twitter, filmmaker Mike Cernovich wrote on Twitter that Baker, during his time as FBI general counsel, “personally arranged a meeting” with cybersecurity attorney Michael Sussmann, who was at the time working for the Clinton campaign.
“In this meeting, Sussmann presented fabricated evidence in the Alfa bank matter,” Cernovich wrote.
Sussmann was charged last year by special counsel John Durham for lying to Baker during that meeting.
“Sounds pretty bad,” Musk responded on Twitter to the Cernovich post.
According to court documents, it was Sussmann who asked for the meeting, which took place in September 2016 at FBI headquarters. The two men knew each other from their time working in the Justice Department criminal division.
Sussmann emailed Baker that he was going to the meeting not representing any client. But in fact, he billed the time to the presidential campaign of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Durham alleges that this was a material lie, which means that it had a natural tendency or was capable to affect government decisions.
During their meeting, Sussmann gave Baker data and reports purportedly showing secret communications between The Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa-Bank. The FBI determined that there was no such secret communication. A tech expert firm hired by Alfa-Bank concluded that the data may have been fabricated, although Durham hasn’t made that assertion.
The data and reports were provided to Sussmann by Rodney Joffe, who has run several tech companies. Sussmann, Joffe, and others were in a “joint venture” to dig up dirt on Trump and help Clinton, Durham said, thus far stopping short of alleging the venture amounted to a criminal conspiracy.
Baker told congressional investigators in 2018 that it was unusual for him to be personally approached by somebody in order to pass on information to the FBI. He remembered two other instances: one related to the Dennis Montgomery case of alleged illegal government spying on Americans and the other being Mother Jones reporter David Corn, who said he sent Baker a copy of the infamous Steele Dossier in November 2016. Baker said he had long known Corn, and their children used to carpool together (pdf).
The dossier was prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, who was, in turn, paid (through intermediaries) to collect dirt on Trump by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
As it turned out, much of the dossier, including its core claim of Trump–Russia collusion, was fabricated.
There was nothing inappropriate about Sussmann’s passing on the Alfa-Bank information, Baker said. He said he was generally aware that Sussmann had an association with the DNC.
The Sussmann trial is scheduled for mid-May. He has pleaded not guilty.
Durham was tasked, around March or May 2019, with reviewing the 2016–’17 FBI investigation of alleged collusion between candidate and later President Donald Trump and Russia to sway the 2016 election. No such collusion was found.
Baker told lawmakers that the FBI probe was lawfully predicated. Durham previously contested such a claim.
In October 2020, then-Attorney General William Barr appointed Durham as special counsel. In February 2021, Durham resigned his position as a federal prosecutor and has continued the investigation in the sole capacity of special counsel.