Former top FBI lawyer on defense as IG probe on surveillance abuse nears close

Former FBI counsel James Baker, speaking Friday at a rare public appearance, defended the FBI’s controversial surveillance of a former Trump aide during the 2016 campaign, as a closely watched inspector general investigation into that process nears its conclusion.

Baker was quizzed at a forum organized by Brookings Institution about the FBI’s application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against Trump aide Carter Page in 2016 and the use of an unverified anti-Trump dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele in the application for the warrant.

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Republicans have alleged that the dossier was a central source for the warrant and that agents did not properly disclose the dossier was funded by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Baker was asked Friday why the reference to where the dossier originated came in a footnote rather than in “big red magic marker.”

“Nobody is going to miss a page-long footnote in regular type, OK?” Baker responded. “These are federal judges for goodness’ sake, they know how to evaluate wiretap applications.”

“[The information] was consistent with the type of information and the way we would phrase things to basically, effectively be the red light on top of a document like ‘hey court pay attention to this, there are issues here, we think you need to know about these things,'” he said.

His remarks come as IG Michael Horowitz enters what is thought to be the final phases of his review into alleged surveillance abuses during the 2016 campaign. A source familiar with the matter confirmed to Fox News this week that Horowitz is focusing on how the dossier was used to secure the original warrant on Page, as well as three renewals.

With Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report now out in the open, attention has returned to the salacious and unverified anti-Trump dossier authored by Steele -- especially since its more sensational claims were not substantiated by Mueller's team.

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The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Horowitz is close to concluding his inquiry into the genesis of the Russia probe. The report said Horowitz’s team has questioned why the FBI considered Steele a credible source, and why the bureau seemed to use news reports to bolster Steele’s credibility.

It was revealed in January that Baker was under federal investigation for allegedly leaking to the media, an investigation believed to have been opened during the Obama administration and not in the course of the Russia investigation.

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Asked if he was nervous about Horowitz’s investigation, Baker said “I’m always nervous about the IG I guess” but said he has had a good relationship with the IG’s office for decades and has confidence in the decisions he made and welcomed the accountability.

“I’m confident in the judgments I made at the time based on the information I have available to me,” he said.

Fox News' Catherine Herridge and Alex Pappas contributed to this report.