WASHINGTON—The FBI lawyer who served as a conduit for flimsy allegations against Donald Trump said May 19 he would have acted differently if he knew Trump’s rival for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, was behind the claims.
James Baker, who now works for Twitter, said that he likely would not have have met with Michael Sussmann, who is accused of passing on data that allegedly linked Trump’s business to a Russian bank, if he knew Sussmann was acting on behalf of the Clinton campaign.
“I don’t think I would have,” Baker said on the stand in federal court in Washington.
Knowing Trump’s opponent was behind the allegations “would have raised very serious questions, certainly, about the credibility of the source” and the “veracity of the information,” Baker said. It would also have heightened “a substantial concern in my mind about whether we were going to be played.”
The testimony bolsters a key piece of special counsel John Durham’s case against Sussmann—that knowing the sources propelling Sussmann to meet with Baker would have altered how the FBI analyzed the information, which the bureau ultimately found did not substantiate the claims of a secret backchannel between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank.
“Absent Sussmann’s false statement, the FBI might have taken additional or more incremental steps before opening and/or closing an investigation,” prosecutors said in Sussmann’s indictment, which charged him with lying to the FBI.
Defense lawyers have argued that the impact of Sussmann’s alleged lie was “trivial or negligible.”
Sussmann met Baker in the FBI lawyer’s office on Sept. 19, 2016, just weeks before the presidential election. No other persons were present.
Baker said Thursday that would not have been the case if he knew the Clinton campaign’s involvement. He said he likely would have directed Sussmann to other FBI personnel—bureau lawyers don’t typically receive information—or would have still met with Sussmann, but made sure other personnel were present.
“I was willing to meet with Michael alone because I had high confidence in him and trust,” said Baker, who has described Sussmann as a friend. “I think I would have made a different assessment if he said he had been appearing on behalf of a client.”