Person

Jim Baker

Nationality:

American

Organization:

Brookings Institution

James “Jim” Baker is an attorney formerly employed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Twitter. He has also been a fellow at the Brookings Institution. Baker became the Twitter deputy general counsel in June 2020 and held the position until he was ousted by CEO Elon Musk in December 2022 during a controversy over release of the Twitter Files. 1 2

At the DOJ, Baker became a specialist in Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications, and eventually oversaw the DOJ’s FISA operations for the entire U.S. intelligence community. Baker defended FISA and federal surveillance in general to the public and the U.S. Congress throughout much of his time at the DOJ. 3 4 5

At the FBI, Baker was involved in the investigation into allegations of links between President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Russian government. In 2017, Baker was removed from his position by FBI Director Christopher Wray, then-President Donald Trump’s replacement for James Comey. 6 7 Baker left the FBI in 2018. 8

Justice Department

Jim Baker graduated from Michigan Law School in 1988. Two years later, he began working as a federal prosecutor specializing in fraud in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). 9

From 2001 to 2007, Baker served as counsel for intelligence policy at DOJ and ran the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, where he oversaw intelligence and counterintelligence operations. Baker described his work as “provid[ing] legal advice to the attorney general and other senior leadership of the Department of Justice as well as to the intelligence community, including the FBI, CIA, [and] NSA,” and “preparing and filing applications to conduct electronic surveillance for physical search, in particular with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”  Baker accepted the characterization of his work as “the front line of trying to reconcile and balance national security needs and civil liberties in privacy.” 10 11

Baker advised the U.S. Attorney General (AG), then-President George W. Bush, and the intelligence community as an advisor. He was described as “the connection between the executive branch, the Justice Department and the FISA court.” On behalf of the AG, Baker also conducted oversight of the FBI. 12 13

In 2004, Baker alerted U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to a flaw in a National Security Agency (NSA) information-screening program, which rendered it useless and the intelligence community vulnerable to false information. Kollar-Kotelly complained to the DOJ, which shut down the program. 14

Private Sector

In 2007, Baker left the government to become a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a lecturer at Harvard Law School. 15

From 2008 through 2009, Baker worked as assistant general counsel for national security at Verizon. 16

From 2009 until 2011, Baker returned to the DOJ as associate deputy attorney general “working on a range of national security issues, including cyber security.” 17

From 2012 through 2014, Baker worked at Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund based in Connecticut run by billionaire financier Ray Dalio. 18

In 2020, Baker was hired as a counsel for Twitter. 19

Baker has also been a fellow at the Brookings Institution and has written for the Lawfare Institute, an offshoot of Brookings. 20

Baker is a member of the National Task Force on Election Crises. 21

Federal Bureau of Investigation

In 2014, Baker was appointed general counsel of the FBI. 22 He was considered a friend of then-FBI director James Comey, with whom Baker worked at Bridgewater Associates. 23 Baker supposedly was briefed by Comey on Comey’s interactions with then-President Trump. 24

Trump-Russia Controversy

Baker was involved in Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s controversial investigation into alleged links between the presidential campaign of Donald Trump and the Russian government. He worked on a FISA application against Trump campaign aide Carter Page. 25

In December 2019, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (IG) released its report into the conduct of the FBI during the probe and cited “many basic and fundamental errors” that it defined as “extensive compliance failures.” The failings included 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” with the information the Bureau submitted to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants to electronically eavesdrop on Page. 26

A major source of the 17 significant errors in the FISA applications was the FBI’s reliance upon accusations against Page contained in a dubiously sourced and ultimately discredited report written by former British spy Christopher Steele. The IG found the FBI had credible reason to suspect both Steele and his reporting were unreliable but did not include this exculpatory information in the FISA applications. Similarly, far from evidence indicating that he was a Russian asset, there was strong evidence that Carter Page had been a cooperative source for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the Agency’s effort to obtain information about the Russian government, but this too was omitted from the FISA applications. 27

No evidence was found in the FISA surveillance to support an accusation or prosecution of Page. According to the official, final report on the probe, colloquially known as the “Mueller Report,” the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” 28

In a May 2019 interview, Baker defended the FBI’s investigation and said he felt compelled to speak out to counter alleged conspiracy theories perpetrated by then-President Trump and his allies that the investigation was politically motivated or instigated by the discredited Steele dossier. 29

Leak Investigation

In July 2017, Baker was investigated by the DOJ for possibly leaking classified national-security information to the media. 30 The Washington Post called the investigation “a strange interagency dispute” between the FBI and NSA. Despite the investigation ending with no charges, Baker was reassigned in December, along with many other top FBI officials, by Christopher Wray—the newly appointed FBI director. 31 Baker left the FBI in 2018. 32

Former Director Comey publicly denounced the reassignment, as he and other officials blamed the move on a partisan effort to remove FBI leaders who had previously been critical of then-President Trump. 33

Then-President Trump tweeted about Baker’s removal and later accused Baker of lying to Congress and supporting an “attempted coup” through the Mueller Investigation. Baker told the New Yorker in October 2019 that the then-President’s actions had damaged his career, and he publicly countered many of Trump’s claims. He stated: “One of the things that Donald Trump has trafficked in is fear. And, once people are no longer afraid of him, I think more people will come forward.” 34

Twitter

Baker became the Twitter deputy general counsel in June 2020 and held the position until his firing in December 2022, during a controversy over release of the Twitter Files. 35 36

Baker appears to have been the most senior of several former FBI staffers working at Twitter. According to Michael Shellenberger’s Twitter Files report: “As of 2020, there were so many former FBI employees—‘Bu alumni’—working at Twitter that they had created their own private Slack channel and a crib sheet to onboard new FBI arrivals.” 37

In a December 6, 2022, Twitter Files report, Matt Taibbi announced that Baker had been fired from Twitter. “Twitter Deputy General Counsel (and former FBI General Counsel) Jim Baker was fired,” wrote Taibbi. “Among the reasons? Vetting the first batch of ‘Twitter Files’—without knowledge of new management.” 38

The first Twitter Files report, produced by Taibbi days earlier, addressed the FBI’s role in persuading Twitter to suppress a New York Post report in October 2020 regarding the contents of a laptop allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden. Subsequent Twitter Files reporting on the incident by Michael Shellenberger revealed Baker was involved in Twitter’s internal decision to suppress the story. 39 40

In his report on the Baker firing, Taibbi wrote that fellow journalist Bari Weiss discovered Baker’s involvement when researching her own first report for the Twitter Files. 41

“Baker is a controversial figure,” wrote Taibbi, before briefly summarizing the former FBI figure’s career. “The news that Baker was reviewing the ‘Twitter files’ surprised everyone involved, to say the least. New Twitter chief Elon Musk acted quickly to ‘exit’ Baker Tuesday.” 42

“My jaw hit the floor,” said Weiss, according to Taibbi, explaining her reaction upon the discovery that Baker was vetting information before releasing it to her and the other Twitter Files reporters. 43

“In light of concerns about Baker’s possible role in suppression of information important to the public dialogue, he was exited from Twitter today,” wrote Twitter CEO Elon Musk, in a Twitter post that same day. 44

Suppression of New York Post Report

On October 14, 2020, during the final weeks of the 2020 presidential election, the New York Post reported a story based on the contents of a computer that allegedly had been used by Hunter Biden, son of President (and then-Democratic presidential nominee) Joe Biden. Emails on the device appeared to reveal controversial contacts and potential business dealings with foreign governments involving the Bidens and other figures. 45 46 47

In a December 2022 Twitter Files report, Michael Shellenberger showed that “the FBI & intelligence community” engaged in a campaign to discredit the “factual information about Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings both after and *before* The New York Post revealed the contents of his laptop on October 14, 2020.” 48

Shellenberger also provided internal communications showing Jim Baker was convinced by the effort to discredit the story and worked to persuade others at Twitter to suppress it. 49

According to Shellenberger, Baker repeatedly tried to persuade his Twitter co-workers “that the Hunter Biden materials were either faked, hacked, or both, and a violation of Twitter policy.” 50

“Baker does so over email, and in a Google doc, on October 14 and 15,” wrote Shellenberger. 51

In an email on the morning of October 14, the day the story appeared, Baker wrote that “reliable cybersecurity folks” had judged that the formatting of the emails used by the New York Post “looks like they could be complete fabrications.” 52

Baker received pushback regarding whether the story rose to the level of a violation of Twitter policy; he responded: “I support the conclusion that we need more facts to assess whether the materials were hacked. At this stage, however, it is reasonable for us to assume that they may have been and that caution is warranted.” 53

Shellenberger found that despite initial doubts, Yoel Roth, at the time Twitter’s chief of trust and safety, came around to Baker’s position against allowing the New York Post story to proliferate on Twitter. 54

“The suggestion from experts—which rings true—is there was a hack that happened separately, and they loaded the hacked materials on the laptop that magically appeared at a repair shop in Delaware,” wrote Roth. 55

“In the end, the FBI’s influence campaign aimed at executives at news media, Twitter, & other social media companies worked: they censored & discredited the Hunter Biden laptop story,” concluded Shellenberger. “By Dec. 2020, Baker and his colleagues even sent a note of thanks to the FBI for its work.” 56

The Twitter Files includes an email chain of the discussion over which FBI agents deserved the notes of appreciation from Twitter for their role in the decision. 57

“Also, we should be mindful that the letters could leak and will be subject to FOIA, so we should prepare them with that expectation in mind,” wrote Jim Baker to his Twitter colleagues. 58

Immediately after the New York Post released the story, Twitter responded by locking the account of and blocking access to it, citing the report as a violation of Twitter’s “hacked materials” policy. The Twitter account of Trump White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany was also locked after she referenced the Post report. Facebook implemented a similar, but less restrictive policy, limiting the spread of the story on the platform. 59 60 61

Twitter informed the newspaper that the account would not be unlocked until the Post removed its original references to the Hunter Biden report. The newspaper did not comply, and the account remained locked for two weeks. 62

More than two years after the controversy, in November 2022, an independent review commissioned by CBS News verified what the New York Post had reported. The review asserted that the laptop’s contents had been genuine, had belonged to Hunter Biden, and had not been tampered with. 63

Attempt to Suppress Trump Tweet

An optimistic post from President Donald Trump in October 2020 led to what Twitter Files journalist David Zweig characterized as a “surreal exchange” between then-Twitter deputy counsel Jim Baker, senior legal executive Stacia Cardille, and head of trust and safety Yoel Roth. 64

Leaving the hospital after his October 2020 COVID-19 infection, Trump posted praise for the hospital on Twitter and encouragement for anyone battling the illness. 65

“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” said Trump. “Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” 66

“Why isn’t this POTUS tweet a violation of our COVID-19 policy (especially the ‘Don’t be afraid of Covid’ statement)?” responded Baker in a message to Roth and Cardille. 67

“In short, this tweet is a broad, optimistic statement,” responded Roth. “It doesn’t incite people to do something harmful, nor does it recommend against taking precautions or following mask directives (or other guidelines).” 68

“Curious whether you have a different read on it, though,” Roth concluded his note to Baker. 69

In his Twitter Files analysis, Zweig characterized Baker’s charge that then-President Trump’s optimistic statement violated Twitter’s rules as an “example of human bias run amok.” 70

Electronic Surveillance and FISA

James Baker advocated and acted as a spokesman for federal electronic surveillance throughout the Clinton, Bush, and Obama presidential administrations, particularly for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which governs federal surveillance operations. When a federal intelligence agency wants to engage in surveillance of American citizens, whether for suspicion of criminal or terrorist activity, the agency must submit an application to a FISA court, in which a judge may accept, reject, or modify the proposal. Baker began working on FISA applications in 1996 as one of about six attorneys. By 2007, the Office of Intelligence Policy he oversaw had up to 130 individuals working on FISA applications. Over that time span, the number of annual FISA applications increased from about 750 to about 2,000. 71

In 2007, PBS Frontline produces Rick Young described Baker in an interview as someone who “knows more about the FISA process than anyone in the country,” earning him the nickname “Mr. FISA.” 72

Baker has extensively defended the validity of FISA as a safeguard for civil liberties: “the idea that the FISA court is a rubber stamp is to my mind ridiculous, and I think the American people need to know that.” He has also asserted that FISA’s parameters remain functional despite the act being passed in 1978: “In my opinion FISA works. It worked in the 20th century; it works today.” 73

Baker endorsed the controversial warrantless wire taps authorized under FISA under the administration of President George W. Bush. 74

Tech Company Encryption

In 2016, Baker led the FBI’s attempts to force Apple to provide backdoor access to U.S. intelligence agencies for electronic surveillance after the government requested access to the iPhone owned by the accused perpetrator of the 2015 San Bernadino terrorist attack. Baker ultimately abandoned the legal request after access was gained through alternative means. As of 2019, Apple products remained end-to-end encrypted. 75

In 2019, Baker wrote an examination of the policy tradeoffs of encryption at tech companies. While he acknowledged that encryption made law enforcement more difficult, he concluded that the cybersecurity benefits of encryption, including privacy and defense against hostile foreign powers like China, outweighed the costs to society. Baker admitted that he “failed” to deal with this tradeoff effectively while working at the DOJ and FBI. 76

References

  1. “Twitter hires ex-FBI attorney Jim Baker involved in Trump campaign probe.” Business Standard. June 17, 2020. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/twitter-hires-ex-fbi-attorney-jim-baker-involved-in-trump-campaign-probe-120061700445_1.html
  2. “THREAD: Twitter Files Supplemental” (a.k.a.: Twitter Files Part 1A). Twitter. Matt Taibbi (@mtaibbi). Twitter thread from December 6, 2022, beginning at 4:38pm timestamp. Accessed January 30, 2023. https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1600243405841666048
  3. “James A. Baker.” Harvard Law School. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10035/Baker.
  4. “Interview James Baker.” PBS. March 2, 2007. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/homefront/interviews/baker.html.
  5. Cohen, Marshall. “Former top FBI lawyer James Baker defends origins of the Russia investigation.” CNN. May 10, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/10/politics/james-baker-brookings/index.html.
  6. Carter, Sara A. “Sources: A top FBI lawyer is under an investigation for allegedly leaking classified information.” Circa. July 26, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20170727193837/https://www.circa.com/story/2017/07/26/politics/james-a-baker-fbi-general-counsel-is-allegedly-under-an-investigation-for-leaking-classified-information-to-the-media.
  7. Barrett, Devlin; Nakashima, Ellen. “FBI’s top lawyer said to be reassigned.” Washington Post. December 21, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fbis-top-lawyer-said-to-be-reassigned/2017/12/21/2ac76640-e6b5-11e7-833f-155031558ff4_story.html.
  8. Byrnes, Jesse. “2 Former Advisers to Comey Leave FBI.” The Hill. The Hill, May 5, 2018. https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/386331-two-former-advisers-to-comey-leave-fbi/.
  9. “James A. Baker, ’88: General Counsel for the FBI.” Gale Academic Online. August 25, 2014. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://go.gale.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA379826364&sid=sitemap&v=2.1&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&userGroupName=anon%7E1378fe80.
  10. “James A. Baker.” Harvard Law School. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10035/Baker.
  11. “Interview James Baker.” PBS. March 2, 2007. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/homefront/interviews/baker.html.
  12. “James A. Baker.” Harvard Law School. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://hls.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/10035/Baker.
  13. “Interview James Baker.” PBS. March 2, 2007. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/homefront/interviews/baker.html.
  14.  [1] Leonnig, Carol D. “Secret Court’s Judges Were Warned About NSA Spy Data.” Washington Post. February 9, 2006. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/08/AR2006020802511.html
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  17. “James A. Baker Appointed as FBI’s General Counsel.” FBI. January 15, 2014. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/news/pressrel/press-releases/james-a.-baker-appointed-as-fbis-general-counsel.
  18. Baker, Jim. “Rethinking Encryption.” Lawfare. October 22, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.lawfareblog.com/rethinking-encryption.
  19. “Twitter hires ex-FBI attorney Jim Baker involved in Trump campaign probe.” Business Standard. June 17, 2020. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/twitter-hires-ex-fbi-attorney-jim-baker-involved-in-trump-campaign-probe-120061700445_1.html
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  21. “Task Force Members.” National Task Force on Election Crises. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.electiontaskforce.org/members.
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  23. Barrett, Devlin; Nakashima, Ellen. “FBI’s top lawyer said to be reassigned.” Washington Post. December 21, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fbis-top-lawyer-said-to-be-reassigned/2017/12/21/2ac76640-e6b5-11e7-833f-155031558ff4_story.html.
  24. Cohen, Marshall. “Former top FBI lawyer James Baker defends origins of the Russia investigation.” CNN. May 10, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/10/politics/james-baker-brookings/index.html.
  25. “Twitter hires ex-FBI attorney Jim Baker involved in Trump campaign probe.” Business Standard. June 17, 2020. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/twitter-hires-ex-fbi-attorney-jim-baker-involved-in-trump-campaign-probe-120061700445_1.html.
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  27. “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation.” Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Department of Justice. December 2019. Accessed February 1, 2023. https://www.justice.gov/storage/120919-examination.pdf
  28. Mueller III, Robert S. “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election: Volume I of II.” U.S. Department of Justice. March 2019. Accessed February 1, 2023. https://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2019/images/04/18/mueller-report-searchable.pdf
  29. Cohen, Marshall. “Former top FBI lawyer James Baker defends origins of the Russia investigation.” CNN. May 10, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/10/politics/james-baker-brookings/index.html.
  30. Carter, Sara A. “Sources: A top FBI lawyer is under an investigation for allegedly leaking classified information.” Circa. July 26, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20170727193837/https://www.circa.com/story/2017/07/26/politics/james-a-baker-fbi-general-counsel-is-allegedly-under-an-investigation-for-leaking-classified-information-to-the-media.
  31. Barrett, Devlin; Nakashima, Ellen. “FBI’s top lawyer said to be reassigned.” Washington Post. December 21, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/fbis-top-lawyer-said-to-be-reassigned/2017/12/21/2ac76640-e6b5-11e7-833f-155031558ff4_story.html.
  32. Byrnes, Jesse. “2 Former Advisers to Comey Leave FBI.” The Hill. The Hill, May 5, 2018. https://thehill.com/policy/national-security/386331-two-former-advisers-to-comey-leave-fbi/.
  33. [1] Seth, Sonam. “’Anyone can be attacked for partisan gain’: Comey issues rare statement in defense of top FBI lawyer.” Insider. December 23, 2017. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.businessinsider.com/james-comey-defends-james-baker-fbi-trump-russia-2017-12?IR=T.
  34. Rohde, David. “Public Servants Are Starting To Respond To Donald Trump’s False Attacks.” The New Yorker. October 14, 2019. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/public-servants-versus-donald-trump
  35. “Twitter hires ex-FBI attorney Jim Baker involved in Trump campaign probe.” Business Standard. June 17, 2020. Accessed August 2, 2022. https://www.business-standard.com/article/international/twitter-hires-ex-fbi-attorney-jim-baker-involved-in-trump-campaign-probe-120061700445_1.html
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  52. “TWITTER FILES: PART 7: The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop.” Twitter: Michael Shellenberger (@shellenbergerMD). Twitter thread from December 19, 2022, beginning at 11:09am timestamp. Accessed January 4, 2023. https://twitter.com/shellenbergermd/status/1604871630613753856
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  54. “TWITTER FILES: PART 7: The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop.” Twitter: Michael Shellenberger (@shellenbergerMD). Twitter thread from December 19, 2022, beginning at 11:09am timestamp. Accessed January 4, 2023. https://twitter.com/shellenbergermd/status/1604871630613753856
  55. “TWITTER FILES: PART 7: The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop.” Twitter: Michael Shellenberger (@shellenbergerMD). Twitter thread from December 19, 2022, beginning at 11:09am timestamp. Accessed January 4, 2023. https://twitter.com/shellenbergermd/status/1604871630613753856
  56. “TWITTER FILES: PART 7: The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop.” Twitter: Michael Shellenberger (@shellenbergerMD). Twitter thread from December 19, 2022, beginning at 11:09am timestamp. Accessed January 4, 2023. https://twitter.com/shellenbergermd/status/1604871630613753856
  57. “TWITTER FILES: PART 7: The FBI & the Hunter Biden Laptop.” Twitter: Michael Shellenberger (@shellenbergerMD). Twitter thread from December 19, 2022, beginning at 11:09am timestamp. Accessed January 4, 2023. https://twitter.com/shellenbergermd/status/1604871630613753856
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Connected Organizations

  1. Twitter (For-profit)
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