Monday, December 3, 2018

No. 297: Jim Baker's Sidelining at the FBI Has Not Worked Out Well for the Trump Administration

Jim Baker is a Visiting Fellow at the Lawfare Institute, a Visiting Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, and a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School. He was General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). James Comey, former director of the FBI, identified him as one of those in whom Comey confided after Comey's private meetings with President Donald Trump. The Trump administration later moved Baker to a lesser position, and still later Baker left the Department of Justice.

Lawfare is a highly regarded blog dedicated to national security issues. It is published by the Lawfare Institute in cooperation with the Brookings Institution. It was founded in September 2010, and is based in Washington, DC.

The Baker-Grant Article
Baker and Sarah Grant co-authored an article entitled "What the Watergate 'Road Map' Reveals about Improper Contact between the White House and the Justice Department." Grant is a student at Harvard Law School, and previously spent five years on active duty in the Marine Corps. She holds an MPhil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge and a BS in International Relations from the United States Naval Academy.

The lengthy Baker/Grant article (shown here in full) was posted on the Lawfare blog on November 19, 2018. (I published a blog post about the "Road Map" in No. 295 on November 9, 2018.) Here are the opening sentences of the Baker/Grant article, a section in the middle of the article, and the closing sentences:
In a conversation between the president of the United States and senior Justice Department officials, the officials informed the president that two of his senior White House staff were under investigation. One of the officials later testified: "He said he couldn't believe it. You know, just these are fine outstanding guys. Just couldn't be, you know." He impressed on the president, "We are here to alert you. We think we've got something. We could be wrong, but we are telling you it's time for you to move to protect yourself and the presidency." And he urged the president to "get rid" of the staffers in question; the president responded, "Yeah, and I don't think I should. I've got to think about this and that and a thousand other things." This happened in 1973.
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[T]he road map's references to President Nixon's interactions with [Henry E.] Petersen [assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Criminal Division and the official quoted above regarding the interaction with President Nixon]—the person who was heading the investigation—take on a different and more nefarious meaning. Those interactions must be understood within the larger context of the president's knowledge of the facts regarding Watergate at the time that he was in contact with Petersen. In other words, when the president sought information from Petersen, provided his views to Petersen on the various matters that they discussed, and discussed Petersen's future, he was not merely exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution to supervise the executive branch and trying to get the facts necessary to do so; the president of the United States was also acting as a criminal co-conspirator trying to obstruct lawful investigation activities of the Justice Department.
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How was all of this presidential contact with the Justice Department understood in the context of Watergate? Pretty harshly. For example, Article II, paragraph 5, of the House Judiciary Committee's July 27, 1974, Articles of Impeachment states in part that President Nixon: "In disregard of the rule of law, ... knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Criminal Division, and the Office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, of the Department of Justice, and the Central Intelligence Agency, in violation of his duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." President Nixon resigned on Aug. 9, 1974, and was pardoned by President Gerald Ford on Sept. 8, 1974.
General Observations
The parallels between the Nixon case and the current Trump case, including the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General of the United States, are mind-boggling. Those parallels are described in detail in the Baker/Grant article. I think the article, to which a link is provided above, should be read carefully by persons interested in the welfare of our nation.