James A. Baker (government attorney)

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James A. Baker is a former American government official at the Department of Justice who served as General Counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).[1] In December, 2017 he was replaced as general counsel and reassigned to a different position within the FBI.[2] It was revealed on April 19, 2018 that he was a recipient of at least one Comey memo.[3] On May 4, 2018, Baker resigned the FBI and joined the Brookings Institution as a fellow who will write for the justice-focused blog Lawfare.[4] In January 2019, Baker left Brookings to become the Director of National Security and Cybersecurity at the R Street Institute, a think-tank in Washington, D.C.[5] He also teaches at Harvard Law School.


Baker is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and received a J.D. and M.A. from the University of Michigan in 1988.[6] Mr. Baker has taught National Security Law at Harvard University Law School since 2009.

Government service[edit]

Baker joined the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice through the Attorney General's Honors Program in 1990 and went on to work as a federal prosecutor with the division's Fraud Section.[6] In 1996 he joined Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR). This government agency handles all Justice Department requests for surveillance authorizations under the terms of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, advises the Attorney General and all major intelligence-gathering agencies on legal issues relating to national security and surveillance, and "coordinates" the views of the intelligence community regarding intelligence legislation.[7] Baker has often testified before Congress on behalf of Clinton and Bush administration intelligence policies, including defending The Patriot Act before the House Judiciary Committee.[8][9] Regarding Baker's 2007 appearance on the PBS Frontline episode "Spying on the Home Front", the show's producer, in a Washington Post online chat, referred to Baker as "Mr. FISA himself".[10]

In 1998, Baker was promoted to Deputy Counsel for Intelligence Operations. From May 2001 he served as Acting Counsel, and in January 2002 was appointed Counsel. In January 2014, he was appointed General Counsel of the FBI. As of December 2017, newly-appointed director Christopher A. Wray was reassigning him from this role with his new duties unclear.[2]

Private sector[edit]

Baker's government service was interrupted twice by stints in the private sector. Baker was assistant general counsel for national security at Verizon Business from 2008 to 2009.[1] He was associate general counsel with Bridgewater Associates, LP from 2012 to 2014.[11]


In 2004, according to The Washington Post, Baker was responsible for the discovery that "the government's failure to share information" regarding the NSA electronic surveillance program had "rendered useless a federal screening system" insisted upon by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to prevent "tainted information"—in U.S. case law, fruit of the poisonous tree—from being used before the court. Baker was reported to have informed presiding federal judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the FISC, whose complaints to the Justice Department led to the temporary suspension of the NSA program.[12]

In 2007, according to The Washington Post, Baker revealed that he had informed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales "about mistakes the FBI has made or problems or violations or compliance incidents" prior to Gonzales' April 2005 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that ""There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" after 2001.[13]

In 2017, Sinclair-owned Circa reported that Baker was under a Department of Justice criminal investigation for allegedly leaking classified national security information concerning the Trump administration to the media.[14] The probe, described as "a strange interagency dispute that ... attracted the attention of senior lawmakers", ended with a decision not to charge anyone, per The Washington Post.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "FBI — James A. Baker Appointed as FBI's General Counsel" (Press release). FBI National Press Office. January 15, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Barrett, Devlin; Nakashima, Ellen; Leonnig, Carol (December 21, 2017). "FBI's top lawyer said to be reassigned". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 21, 2017.
  3. ^ "Comey Memo - Enclosure Unclassified" (PDF). CNN. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  4. ^ Schmidt, Michael S. (May 4, 2018). "2 F.B.I. Officials, Once Key Advisers to Comey, Leave the Bureau". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2018.
  5. ^ "R Street Institute names Jim Baker director of National Security and Cybersecurity". R Street. 2019-01-09. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  6. ^ a b Whalen, Jenny (August 25, 2014). "James A. Baker, '88: General Counsel for the FBI". The University of Michigan Law School. The University of Michigan. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  7. ^ "US DOJ website on OIPR". December 12, 2003. Archived from the original on January 15, 2006. Retrieved January 26, 2006.
  8. ^ "STATEMENT JAMES A. BAKER COUNSEL FOR INTELLIGENCE POLICY OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE POLICY AND REVIEW UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE" (PDF). Preserving Life & Liberty. Department of Justice. April 26, 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 10, 2005. Retrieved November 7, 2007.
  9. ^ "STATEMENT JAMES A. BAKER COUNSEL FOR INTELLIGENCE POLICY OFFICE OF INTELLIGENCE POLICY AND REVIEW UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE" (PDF). Preserving Life & Liberty. Department of Justice. April 28, 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 10, 2005. Retrieved November 7, 2007.
  10. ^ Young, Rick (May 16, 2007). "PBS Frontline: 'Spying on the Home Front'". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 26, 2017. Mr. FISA himself, Mr. James Baker, the DOJ point man on FISA.
  11. ^ "James A. Baker". Harvard Law School. Harvard University. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  12. ^ Leonnig, Carol D. (February 9, 2006). "Secret Court's Judges Were Warned About NSA Spy Data". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  13. ^ Solomon, John (July 11, 2007). "Gonzales Knew About Violations, Officials Say". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  14. ^ "EXCLUSIVE: A top FBI lawyer is allegedly under an investigation for leaking classified information to the media". Circa. July 27, 2017. Retrieved July 28, 2017.

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