James A. Baker (government attorney)

James Andrew Baker[1] is a former American government official at the Department of Justice who served as general counsel for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).[2] In December, 2017 he was replaced as general counsel and reassigned to a different position within the FBI.[3] It was revealed on April 19, 2018 that he was a recipient of at least one Comey memo.[4] On May 4, 2018, Baker resigned from the FBI and joined the Brookings Institution as a fellow, writing for the justice-focused blog, Lawfare.[5] In January 2019, Baker left Brookings to become the director of national security and cybersecurity at the R Street Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, D.C.[6] He also teaches at Harvard Law School.

James A. Baker
James A. Baker official photo.jpg
General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
In office
January 2014 – December 2017
PresidentBarack Obama
Donald Trump
DirectorJames Comey
Andrew McCabe (acting)
Christopher A. Wray
Preceded byAndrew Weissmann
Succeeded byDana J. Boente
Personal details
James Andrew Baker
EducationUniversity of Notre Dame (B.A.)
University of Michigan (J.D., M.A.)
WorkplaceR Street Institute
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.[7] Mr. Baker has taught national security law at Harvard Law School since 2009.

Government serviceEdit

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.[7] 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.[8] 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.[9][10] 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".[11]

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.[3]

Private sectorEdit

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.[2] He was associate general counsel with Bridgewater Associates, LP from 2012 to 2014.[12]


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.[13]

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 "[t]here has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse" after 2001.[14]

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.[15] The probe, described as "a strange interagency dispute that ... attracted the attention of senior lawmakers", reportedly "ended with a decision not to charge anyone," per The Washington Post.[3]

2016 presidential election investigationEdit

On May 10, 2019, Baker was interviewed for a taped Lawfare podcast, a justice-focused blog, during which he discussed his role in the FBI investigation of events during the 2016 presidential election that would be taken over by Robert S. Mueller III. Previously Baker had refrained from making public comment. He stated that he felt compelled to speak publicly now that the report is public and being characterized adversely by Trump and some members of his administration.[16]

Views on encryptionEdit

Baker had long supported legislation requiring encryption systems to include a means to allow access by law enforcement with a proper warrant. Baker has argued that the cybersecurity threat has become so severe that law enforcement should embrace strong encryption and adapt to the lack of easy access to plaintext messages in a published essay[17] and in a press interview.[18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "University of Notre Dame 1983 Commencement" (PDF). May 1983. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 3, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "FBI — James A. Baker Appointed as FBI's General Counsel" (Press release). FBI National Press Office. January 15, 2014.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Comey Memo - Enclosure Unclassified" (PDF). CNN. April 19, 2018. Retrieved April 19, 2018.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ "R Street Institute names Jim Baker director of National Security and Cybersecurity". R Street. January 9, 2019. Retrieved January 10, 2019.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "US DOJ website on OIPR". December 12, 2003. Archived from the original on January 15, 2006. Retrieved January 26, 2006.
  9. ^ "Statement of 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.
  10. ^ "Statement of 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.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ "James A. Baker". Harvard Law School. Harvard University. Retrieved December 26, 2017.
  13. ^ Leonnig, Carol D. (February 9, 2006). "Secret Court's Judges Were Warned About NSA Spy Data". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  14. ^ Solomon, John (July 11, 2007). "Gonzales Knew About Violations, Officials Say". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 11, 2007.
  15. ^ Carter, Sara A. (July 27, 2017). "Sources: A top FBI lawyer is under an investigation for allegedly leaking classified information". Circa. Archived from the original on July 27, 2017. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  16. ^ Zapotossky, Matt (May 10, 2019). "'There was no attempted coup': FBI's former top lawyer defends Russia probe". The Washington Post.
  17. ^ Baker, James A. (October 22, 2019). "Rethinking Encryption". Lawfare.
  18. ^ Baker, James A. (January 28, 2020). "Encryption and Privacy". C-Span.

External linksEdit