In the chaotic aftermath at the FBI following Director James Comey’s firing, a half-dozen senior FBI officials huddled to set in motion the move to open an investigation into President Donald Trump that included trying to understand why he was acting in ways that seemed to benefit Russia.
They debated a range of possibilities, according to portions of transcripts obtained by CNN. On one end was the idea that Trump fired Comey at the behest of Russia. On the other was the possibility that Trump didn’t have an improper relationship with the Kremlin and was acting within the bounds of his executive authority, the transcripts show.
James Baker, then-FBI general counsel, said the FBI officials were contemplating with regard to Russia whether Trump was “acting at the behest of and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will.”
“That was one extreme. The other extreme is that the President is completely innocent, and we discussed that too,” Baker told House investigators last year. “There’s a range of things this could possibly be. We need to investigate, because we don’t know whether, you know, the worst-case scenario is possibly true or the President is totally innocent and we need to get this thing over with — and so he can move forward with his agenda.”
The congressional transcripts obtained by CNN reveal new details into how the FBI launched the investigation into Trump and the discussions that were going on inside the bureau during a tumultuous and pivotal period ahead of the internal investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment.
Republicans view the officials’ comments as evidence that top officials at the FBI were planning all along to investigate Trump and that the probe wasn’t sparked by the Comey firing, according to a Republican source with knowledge of the interviews.
While the FBI launched its investigation in the days after Comey’s abrupt dismissal, the bureau had previously contemplated such a step, according to testimony from former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Baker told lawmakers, according to an excerpt from the transcript first reported by the Times and confirmed by CNN.
Baker said the notion that Trump was acting at the behest of Russia was “discussed as a theoretical possibility.”
“I’m speaking theoretically. If the President of the United States fired Jim Comey at the behest of the Russian government, that would be unlawful and unconstitutional,” Baker said.
“Is that what happened here?” Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican, asked Baker.
“I don’t know,” Baker responded, before the FBI lawyer cut off additional questions on that line of inquiry.
Representatives for Baker, Page, Strzok and McCabe declined to comment.
The FBI officials were interviewed as part of the Republican House investigation into the FBI’s conduct in the Clinton and Trump investigations, which ended after Democrats took control of the House this month.