- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 20, 2020

It has been one year since a court filing implied that a senior Pentagon official is the one who leaked to Washington Post’s David Ignatius that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn spoke by phone to the Russian ambassador about economic sanctions. 

The January 2017 column on highly classified intercepted communications became the reason for FBI agents to interview Flynn. It ignited a media frenzy over the Trump-Russia probe just as the former Defense Intelligence Agency director assumed the national security adviser post for President Trump.

James H. Baker, the senior Pentagon official who runs the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), has now denied he was the source in a reply letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, Iowa Republican, a congressional source told The Washington Times. 

Mr. Grassley, Finance Committee chairman, has been investigating ONA, particularly its financial ties to Stefan Halper. He was the FBI’s main undercover agent in its probe of the Trump campaign and Russian election interference. 

Focus on Mr. Baker as the leaker began when Sidney Powell, Flynn’s attorney, filed an October 2019 brief.

“ONA Director Baker regularly lunched with Washington Post Reporter David Ignatius,” Ms. Powell said. “Baker is believed to be the person who illegally leaked the transcript of Flynn’s calls to Ignatius.”

Suspicion heightened in May when Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog, obtained email threads that showed Mr. Baker maintained a friendly source relationship with Mr. Ignatius, whose columns focus on intelligence and foreign affairs. 

In June, Mr. Grassley sent a letter asking Mr. Baker point-blank if he leaked. 

Mr. Baker declined to comment publicly at the time but has issued a written denial to Mr. Grassley, The Washington Times has learned.

A defense official told The Times there is no Justice Department probe of Mr. Baker: 

“All ONA interactions with media members are conducted in accordance with DOD policy and ATSD/PA [assistant to the secretary of defense, public affairs] procedures.  The accusation of leaks of the Lt. Gen. (Ret) Flynn call stem from a note in the court filing by the defense team for Flynn, where they added a ‘belief’ of the source of information.  The DoD nor the DOJ have investigated Mr. Baker, nor given any credence to this ‘belief.’  Mr. Baker did not have access to NSA [National Security Agency] reporting regarding Flynn’s discussions with the Russian Ambassador, including the content of the calls, nor the transcript in question.  When queried by Senator Grassley in July, Mr. Baker notified him in writing that he did not speak to the Washington Post regarding Flynn-Kislyak.”

ONA has paid Mr. Halper over $1 million for various studies on Russia and China.

In one study obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Halper included a long list of renowned national security figures who contributed to the study. The Times contacted a dozen of those listed. They said they had made no contribution.

Mr. Grassley asked for a Defense Department inspector general’s report. The IG reported back that Mr. Halper failed  to document listed sources in either the study narrative or footnotes. ONA failed to verify that he spoke to listed sources or visited places he said he did.

Social media posts have speculated that Mr. Halper’s payments are linked to his FBI work, but there has been no evidence of this. 

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agent Peter Strzok about whether he discussed President Obama’s sanctions imposed as punishment for Russian election interference. 

The Ignatius column was important because Trump representatives denied sanctions were discussed and the FBI had the transcript that showed they were.

Flynn has now repudiated his guilty plea on grounds that he was entrapped. Despite a court order, the FBI withheld favorable evidence, such as the fact he was officially cleared of any inappropriate Russian contacts in a Jan. 4, 2017 FBI memo. FBI agents also said they did not believe Flynn knowingly lied, their notes show.

The Justice Department moved to drop the entire case, but U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan is balking.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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