Just hours after FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe delivered private testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, his boss, FBI Director Christopher Wray, announced that the bureau’s top lawyer would be leaving his post, an attempt to bring in “new blood” to an agency whose reputation has been hopelessly compromised by revelations that agents’ partisan bias may have influenced two high-profile investigations involving President Donald Trump and his former campaign rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
As the Washington Post reported, the FBI’s top lawyer, James Baker, is being reassigned. WaPo says Baker’s removal is part of Wray’s effort to assemble his own team of senior advisers while he tries to defuse allegations of partisanship that have plagued the bureau in recent months.
The news of the staff shakeup comes as Trump and his political allies have promised to “rebuild” the FBI to make it “bigger and better than ever” following its “disgraceful” conduct over the Trump probe.
Baker played a key role in the agency’s handling of major cases and policy debates in recent years, including the FBI’s unsuccessful battle with Apple over the growing use of encryption in cellphones.
Wray has, of course, resisted Congress’s push to learn more about senior agent Peter Strzok, who was a key player in both the Clinton investigation and the Trump probe. Strzok was exposed last month for exchanging anti-Trump texts with FBI attorney Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair. Strzok played important roles with both investigations. Later, it was revealed that his edits to Clinton’s exoneration letter went further than had been previously disclosed.
According to WaPo, Baker told colleagues he will be taking on other duties at the FBI. Unsurprisingly, the Jeff Bezos-owned paper describes Baker as “one of the most trusted, longest-serving national security officials in the US. He has served as the head of the FBI’s Office of General Counsel for several years.”
Of course, WaPo says Baker’s reassignment has nothing to do with the leak investigation, which ended without any publicly disclosed findings. It’s also unclear what, exactly, Baker was suspected of leaking.
Baker is reportedly a very close to former FBI director James B. Comey, who asked Baker to be his general counsel. The two men were colleagues at the Justice Department and when they were out of government at Bridgewater Associates, an investment management firm.
It’s notable that Baker’s departure comes six months after the leaking scandal, and just days after AG Jeff Sessions reportedly asked DOJ prosecutors to begin asking FBI agents about the details of the Uranium One investigation. A sign that the bureau is finally moving to address concerns expressed by Republican lawmakers about bias that may have favored Clinton.
Baker’s head is the third to roll in the “housecleaning” that saw the FBI sanction Strzok and Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who reportedly concealed his wife’s ties to opposition research firm Fusion GPS – the firm that supervised the creation of the infamous “Trump dossier.”
It was also revealed recently that Baker’s name is on a list of DOJ officials who are expected to receive a subpoena to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Strzok and Ohr’s names are also on that list.
If that’s any indication of what’s to come, we doubt this will be the last time we hear Baker’s name.