FBI's Top Lawyer 'Became Quite Alarmed' After Reading 'Literally a Couple' of the Strzok-Page Texts

By Susan Jones | April 10, 2019 | 8:49am EDT
Peter Strzok testifying at a joint hearing of the House Judiciary Committee and House Oversight Committee, July 12, 2018. (Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla)

(CNSNews.com) - James Baker, the former general counsel for the FBI, asked for an internal investigation of the Hillary Clinton email case after learning about text messages exchanged by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

According to a transcript of Baker's closed-door interview with members of Congress, released yesterday (April 9), Baker says he read only "literally a couple" of those text messages, and "it freaked me out. And I was worried, and I thought, we need to get on top of this quickly."

Peter Strzok was the lead counterintelligence investigator on both the Clinton (Midyear) case and later, the Trump-Russia investigation. Page was an attorney in the FBI's Office of General Counsel, which Baker headed, but she was assigned to work directly for Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

According to the Justice Department's inspector-general, Strzok and Page were having an extramarital affair.

Baker also was involved,  in an advisory capacity, in both the Clinton email and Trump-Russia investigations. He was interviewed on Oct. 3, 2018 by members and staff of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

A staff attorney for the Republicans told Baker, "[I]t's my understanding you played a very unique role early on with requesting that an inspection be done of the Midyear (Clinton) case once these texts became known."

Baker responded:

So, yes, when I heard about these texts, I only read a few of them. They were described to me. And I immediately became quite alarmed. And so my thinking was, well, from a -- from the -- okay. I don't know what -- I know that -- I knew that the inspector general was looking at them. I knew that they would address them. And so I knew that there was a process in place.

So what I was concerned about is whether -- whether any decisions had been taken -- or not taken -- in the Midyear case that were driven by political bias of any sort. I was quite worried about that. And I wanted to make sure that we as an institution, the Bureau as an institution, got on top that extremely quickly.

And so I suggested to the leadership that we put together some type of team -- I didn't exactly know how to do that, but I consulted with other folks -- to basically do a review of the case and have an independent group of people come in and look at and assess whether any decisions were made that looked unusual, that looked like they were driven by bias, decisions made, actions taken, or things not done.

That's what I was also worried about, the omissions, right? So we talked about that, and there was an agreement to do that, and eventually it was set up and it was done.

At the outset I was also quite worried, knowing full well that the inspector general's office was doing an investigation, that I didn't want to mess up anything that they were doing. And so we worked in coordination with the inspector general. I actually spoke to him and made sure that he knew what we were doing -- and his staff -- knew what we were doing, why we wanted to do it, to make sure that it was okay with him. And he approved it, his office approved it.

So we went forward with this review, sort of done quietly off to the side. But from my perspective it was incumbent upon us as good managers to actually be good managers and to do this.

The Republican attorney asked Baker which texts worried him: "You indicated you didn't read all of them. Do you remember what specifically alarmed you?"

"I only saw a few," Baker replied, "and I think there was a derogatory reference to the president. I guess he was not the president at the time. And then, I can't remember who exactly it was that described them to me, but they were described in their general character.

"So I only read like a couple, literally a couple. But that was enough for me to hear, that it freaked me out. And I was worried and I thought we need to get on top of this quickly."

According to the report released by the Justice Department Office of Inspector General last June (2018):

We were deeply troubled by text messages exchanged between Strzok and Page that potentially indicated or created the appearance that investigative decisions were impacted by bias or improper considerations. Most of the text messages raising such questions pertained to the Russia investigation, which was not a part of this review. Nonetheless, when one senior FBI official, Strzok, who was helping to lead the Russia investigation at the time, conveys in a text message to another senior FBI official, Page, “No. No he won’t.We’ll stop it” in response to her question “[Trump’s] notever going to become president, right? Right?!”, it is not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects. This is antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.

...At a minimum, we found that the employees’ use of FBI systems and devices to send the identified messages demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism.

Baker said he learned about the Strzok-Page texts shortly after the Justice Department inspector general told FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe about their existence.

"It was either that day or the next day," Baker said, although he could not supply the exact date: "So when the Bureau management found out about them, that's when I found out about them. I'm drawing a complete blank."

"It might be in the IG report," Baker continued. "I'm sorry, I just can't remember like the exact date sitting here today, or even the months. But it was -- whenever Andy McCabe was called across the street, it was like that day or the next day that I found out about them."

At that point, the interview switched to another subject and nothing more was said about the Strzok-Page text messages. The subject of their extramarital affair was not discussed at all.

Later in the interview, Baker told a Democrat congressman he has never been involved in a DOJ or FBI investigation that was conducted for a political purpose; he said he has never been involved in, or been aware of, an FBI investigation intended to frame a U.S. citizen; and he said he does not believe the FBI or DOJ investigated the Trump campaign for political purposes.

Baker said if the FBI had been asked to launch an inquiry for political purposes, "We would have rejected it out of hand and would have resigned, if compelled to do it."

Baker also said he is not aware of any evidence that Strzok, Page, or any FBI official was working to stop Donald Trump from being elected president.

The Justice Department inspector-general write in his June report:

"While we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative actions ... the conduct by these employees cast a cloud over the entire FBI investigation and sowed doubt about the FBI’s work on, and its handling of, the Midyear investigation.

"It also called into question Strzok’s failure in October 2016 to follow up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop. The damage caused by these employees’actions extends far beyond the scope of the Midyear investigation and goes to the heart of the FBI’s reputation for neutral factfinding and political independence."

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