James Baker
© MSNBC
Former FBI General Counsel James Baker
Former FBI General Counsel James Baker is defending the FBI's handling of the Trump dossier, saying "we took it seriously" but "we didn't necessarily take it literally" and did not treat it as "literally true in every respect."

The dossier, packed with salacious and unverified claims about President Trump's ties to Russia, was written by British ex-spy Christopher Steele and formed a key part of the FISA applications used to justify surveillance warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Sitting down with Yahoo News' Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman for a Skullduggery podcast released on Wednesday, Baker said the FBI treated the dossier as "something that we were obligated to deal with and obligated to assess. He did not provide any details on what, if anything, the FBI verified in the dossier.

Baker was pressed by Klaidman about what the FBI actually did to verify the dossier. Baker, who says that he personally reviewed and signed off on the Page FISA application, replied:
"I'm not going to go into details with respect to what investigative steps we actually took to try to validate it. But I guess I would say that the first thing was to come up with an investigative plan for how we would go about validating that, especially with respect to the number of sources and sub-sources that Steele supposedly had according to the dossier and where they were geographically and try to figure out how to do it."
"It was challenging," Baker added, noting that validating information from sources can be challenging and "mistakes can be made."

Isikoff asked Baker what his overall assessment of the credibility of the allegations made in Steele's dossier was as of October 2016 when it was used extensively before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Baker referred to the redacted Page FISA application with
"a long footnote that goes into describing our assessment of Steele" that "successfully endeavors at least what we knew at the top of the organization about Steele and his reliability at that time, and to put the court on notice ... about matters regarding Steele's credibility so the court could make an assessment."
The footnote to which Baker referred does not cast doubt on even the most outlandish of Steele's allegations but rather makes it clear the FBI trusts Steele:
"Based on Source #1's [Steele's] previous reporting history with the FBI, whereby Source #1 [Steele] provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes Source #1's [Steele's] reporting herein to be credible."
The footnote mentions Steele was
"approached by an identified U.S. person [Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson] who indicated to Source #1 [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm [Perkins Coie] had hired the identified U.S. person [Glenn Simpson] to conduct research regarding Candidate #1's [Trump's] ties to Russia" and that "the FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person [Glenn Simpson] was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1's [Trump's] campaign."
But the footnote claims that Simpson never told Steele about motivation behind the project and studiously avoids telling the court that the funding for this effort was coming from the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

Isikoff asked Baker if he would still file the FISA application the same way knowing what he does now. Baker declined to answer directly. He did say:
"A FISA application should be thought of as "a snapshot taken at a particular moment in an investigation when you know certain facts but you don't know everything and you don't know how the investigation is going to conclude at the end of the day.

"Facts can change and assessments can change. As your investigation proceeds, you learn more, and you learn about stuff you didn't know before, and you discount stuff you thought was true previously, you legitimately thought was true but now realize was wrong."
Kladiman asked Baker about DOJ's interactions with the FISA court. Baker replied:
"The way it works is that we file applications, and we have an obligation to put into them all the material facts. So, what should be reflected in the application are all the material facts that would help the court understand what's going on."
Baker insisted that the FBI did its due diligence and provided the appropriate facts to the court.
"Because it's an ex-party proceeding [a proceeding with no defense attorney present], the lawyers that appear before the court have the highest duty of candor to the tribunal, to the court. When I read that Carter Page application, to me, even just going on what's not been redacted, at the end of the day I thought that what was in there was consistent with the way we describe sources and describe their reliability in other applications."
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is investigating the way that the DOJ and FBI handled the Trump-Russia investigation, with a particular focus on alleged FISA abuse related to the FBI's reliance on the Steele dossier.

Horowitz, who launched his investigation in 2018, said he would:
"examine the Justice Department's and the FBI's compliance with legal requirements, and with applicable DOJ and FBI policies and procedures, in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court relating to a certain U.S. person."
The "certain U.S. person" is Page.

Horowitz also said he would:
"review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source. Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ's and FBI's relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications."
This "alleged FBI confidential source" is Steele.

Horowitz is expected to finish his investigation in either May or June. U.S. Attorney John Huber was also tasked with a similar responsibility by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions back in 2018, and U.S. Attorney John Durham has reportedly been selected by Attorney General William Barr to look into the origins of the Russia inquiry.