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Profile: James Baker

James Baker was a participant or observer in the following events:

Jimmy Carter celebrates his presidential victory.Jimmy Carter celebrates his presidential victory. [Source: PBS]Gerald Ford loses the presidency to Democratic challenger Jimmy Carter, an obscure Georgia governor who contrasts himself to the Nixon and Ford administrations by promising “never to tell a lie to the American people.” The Republican Party’s widening rift between its moderate and conservative wings dooms Ford’s chances at being elected to the office he has held by appointment for over two years (see August 9, 1974). [Werth, 2006, pp. 342] Ford’s de facto campaign chairman, Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, contributes heavily to Ford’s loss. Unready for the stresses and demands of a presidential campaign, Cheney nevertheless wrested control from Ford’s ostensible chairman, Bo Calloway, and promptly alienated campaign workers and staffers. Press secretary Ron Nessen will later write, “Some reporters privately started calling him the Grand Teuton, a complex pun referring to his mountainous home state of Wyoming and the Germanic style of his predecessor in the Nixon administration, H. R. Haldeman.” Cheney tried throughout the campaign to move Ford farther to the right than the president was willing to go; even with his attempts, Ford’s primary challenge from Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) did much to peel away the right-wing Republican base, while Cheney did little to reassure the liberal and moderate Republicans whom many feel are Ford’s natural base. Cheney succeeded in persuading Ford to adopt a convention platform much farther to the right than Ford, and his supporters, wanted; in particular, the Reaganesque “Morality in Foreign Policy Plank,” which stated, “we shall go forward as a united people to forge a lasting peace in the world based upon our deep belief in the rights of man, the rule of law, and guidance by the hand of God,” alienated many more secular Republicans, who were not comfortable with the aggressive Christianity and implied imperialism contained in the statement. (Ultimately, it took the intervention of James Baker, a veteran Republican “fixer” and close friend of the Bush family, to head off disaster at the nominating convention.) Ford aide James Cannon will say that Cheney “was in over his head.” Had Cheney’s former boss Donald Rumsfeld stayed as chief of staff instead of moving to the Pentagon (see November 4, 1975 and After), Cannon believes Ford would have won a second term. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 40]

Entity Tags: Ron Nessen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ronald Reagan, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., James Cannon, James Baker, Bo Calloway, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, H.R. Haldeman, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Senior White House officials attend a National Security Planning Group (NSPG) meeting on the subject of Central America. Attending the meeting are President Reagan, Vice President Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Treasury Secretary James Baker, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, CIA Director William Casey, and White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan. The interests of the Nicaraguan Contras are represented by Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see September 4, 1985), NSC officer Oliver North (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), and senior CIA official Alan Fiers (see Late 1985 and After). According to minutes of the meeting, North reminds the group that under the 1986 Intelligence Authorization Bill, the State Department can legally approach other countries for non-military funding for the Contras. During the ensuing discussion, Reagan asks, according to the minutes: “What about the private groups who pay for ads for the contras? Have they been contacted? Can they do more than ads?” This indicates that Reagan is well aware of the private, illegal funding being channeled to the Contras. Fiers will later give a somewhat different version of events in his testimony to the Iran-Contra grand jury (see July 17, 1991), recalling Reagan asking about “Ollie’s people” working with the Contras and asking if they could help with funding. Fiers will recall the question causing tension among the group, and then someone quickly responding, “that’s being worked on.” After the meeting, North becomes more outspoken in his descriptions of his illegal funding of the Contras. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]

Entity Tags: William Casey, Contras, Caspar Weinberger, Alan Fiers, Donald Regan, Ronald Reagan, Elliott Abrams, James Baker, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Oliver North, Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Secretary of State James Baker tells President Bush that Israel has to negotiate with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two weeks later, Baker urges Israel to withdraw its troops from the Palestinian territories it occupies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel must, he says, “lay aside, once and for all, the unrealistic vision of the greater Israel.” Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, the right-wing leader of the Likud Party, is furious (see April 6, 1989). [Unger, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Shamir, James Baker

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

After the junta ruling Algeria suspends elections and declares martial law (see January 11, 1992), the US decides to tacitly support the junta’s actions. Islamist groups were poised to take power. Secretary of State James Baker will later explain, “We pursued a policy of excluding the radical fundamentalists in Algeria even as we recognized that this was somewhat at odds with our support of democracy.” A State Department report will later comment that the US supported the Algerian junta with “something of a wink and a nod.” Algeria will become embroiled in a civil war and the Algerian government’s crackdown on opponents will become increasingly brutal, but the US will continue to support the junta. [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 315-316]

Entity Tags: Algeria, US Department of State, James Baker

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Three US presidents—Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter—join in honoring Rabin’s life and memory.Three US presidents—Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter—join in honoring Rabin’s life and memory. [Source: Knesset]The reaction to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (see November 4, 1995) is overwhelming. Millions of Israelis and Americans mourn his death both on a personal level and in concern for the fragile Israeli-Palestinian peace accords (see September 13, 1993). President Bill Clinton calls him “my partner and my friend. I admired him, and I loved him very much.” Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush, and Bush’s Secretary of State, James Baker, speak movingly of Rabin’s legacy of peace. But others have different views. Millions of American fundamentalist Christians view Rabin’s assassination as an act of God. The peace talks “were going against the word of God,” says prominent fundamentalist Kay Arthur. “I believe that God stopped [the peace talks] by the things that happened.… I think God did not want the Oslo accord to go through.” Rabin’s widow, Leah Rabin, accuses Israel’s Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu of inciting violence “against my husband and [leading] the savage demonstrations against him” (see October 1995). [Unger, 2007, pp. 142-143]

Entity Tags: James Baker, Benjamin Netanyahu, George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Kay Arthur, Leah Rabin, Yitzhak Rabin

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Vice President Cheney takes office with every intention to push President Bush into invading Iraq. According to an unnamed former subordinate of Cheney’s while Cheney was secretary of defense (see March 20, 1989 and After), Cheney wants to “do Iraq” because he thinks it can be done quickly and easily, and because “the US could do it essentially alone… and that an uncomplicated, total victory would set the stage for a landslide re-election in 2004 and decades of Republican Party domination.” Cheney believes that overthrowing Saddam Hussein “would ‘finish’ the undone work of the first Gulf War and settle scores once and for all with a cast of characters deeply resented by the vice president: George H. W. Bush, Colin Powell, Brent Scowcroft, and Jim Baker.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 182]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, James Baker, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. [Source: Washington Post]James Baker, counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (no relation to the former Secretary of State James A. Baker), informs the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that the government has, at least twice, improperly used excluded evidence from NSA domestic wiretaps to obtain warrants from FISC. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the senior FISC judge, is angered by this as both she and her predecessor, Royce Lambeth, have insisted that no evidence obtained from warrantless wiretaps can be used to obtain warrants for further surveillance from FISC. The Justice Department assured them that the administration would never attempt to secure warrants in such a manner. By using the excluded information, the Justice Department rendered useless the federal screening system put in place to keep such evidence from reaching FISC, which did not want to receive it due to the questionable legality of the domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Kollar-Kotelly’s complaint about the use of tainted evidence results in a brief suspension of the NSA wiretapping program. But the practice will continue (see 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Baker, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, National Security Agency, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, Bush administration (43), Royce Lambeth, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), warns the Justice Department that if it does not stop using evidence collected with warrantless wiretaps to obtain warrants to continue surveillance, her court will be more reluctant to grant warrants for surveillance. Kollar-Kotelly has complained about this before (see 2004). Though both Kollar-Kotelly and her predecessor, Judge Royce Lambeth, express concerns to senior officials that Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program is inherently unconstitutional, neither judge feels that they have the authority to rule on the president’s power to order such surveillance. Instead, they work to preserve the integrity of the FISA process. Eventually, the judges reach a compromise with government lawyers: any case using evidence from warrantless wiretaps that is to be presented to the judges for FISA warrants to continue monitoring the same suspects will be “tagged,” and that evidence will not be used to obtain warrants. Those cases, numbering less than ten a year, are to be presented only to the presiding judge. Lambeth and Kollar-Kotelly both feel that the process will work primarily because of the trust they have developed in James Baker, the Justice Department’s liaison to FISC. Part of the problem stems from contradictory statements and claims from the administration; after the wiretapping program began (see After September 11, 2001, NSA chief Michael Hayden and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made it clear in private meetings with the judges that President Bush wanted to gain all possible information on any potential terrorist attacks, and that such information-gathering must by necessity go beyond the FISA court’s probable-cause requirement. But more recent assertions by Hayden and Ashcroft’s successor, Alberto Gonzales (see December 19, 2005, claiming that NSA analysts do not listen to domestic calls unless they already have some evidence that one of the parties to the call has links to terrorism, contradict earlier administration claims to the judges. Kollar-Kotelly suspects that the entire truth of the matter is not being presented to her and the FISC. Her suspicions are validated when her court is, in spite of administration reassurances, again presented with warrant applications based on illegally obtained evidence (see Late 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Royce Lambeth, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, John Ashcroft, Alberto R. Gonzales, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, George W. Bush, James Baker, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), learns from Justice Department liaison James Baker that at least one more government application for a FISA surveillance warrant is based on illegally obtained evidence. Kollar-Kotelly has warned the Justice Department about this practice in the past (see 2004 and 2005). This time, administration officials claim that the evidence in question is presented due to an error by a low-level Defense Department employee. Kollar-Kotelly asks Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ensure that such an “error” does not happen again. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Baker, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, US Department of Defense, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush personally intervenes in a Justice Department attempt to investigate the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see May 9, 2006), refusing to grant the Justice Department’s investigators routine security clearances so they can proceed with the investigation. Bush’s intervention is later admitted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 18, 2006. Bush’s action to block the granting of clearances to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is unprecedented, and astonishes many legal experts. As a result of his decision, the OPR has no choice but to drop the investigation (see May 9, 2006). The OPR investigation would not have determined whether the surveillance program was illegal or unconstitutional; rather, the office would have investigated “allegations of misconduct involving department attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate, or provide legal advice,” according to the office’s policies and procedures. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006; National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Stopping Gonzales from Being Investigated - The press later learns that had the probe gone forward, Gonzales himself would have been a prime target of inquiry. It is unclear if Bush knows the OPR investigation would have focused on Gonzales. The probe would have focused on Gonzales’s role in authorizing the eavesdropping program while he was White House counsel, as well as his subsequent oversight of the program as attorney general. Before Bush shuts down the probe, OPR investigators were preparing to question two crucial witnesses—Jack Goldsmith, the former chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and James A. Baker, the counsel for the department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. Both Goldsmith and Baker had raised questions about the propriety and legality of numerous aspects of the wiretapping program. The OPR would have also examined documents detailing Gonzales’s participation in the program. [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
OPR Chief Counsel Protests Decision - Upon Gonzales’s admission of Bush’s action, OPR chief counsel H. Marshall Jarrett responds: “Since its creation some 31 years ago, OPR has conducted many highly sensitive investigations involving executive branch programs and has obtained access to information classified at the highest levels. In all those years, OPR has never been prevented from initiating or pursuing an investigation.” Jarrett notes in other memos that clearances had previously been granted to lawyers and agents from the Justice Department and the FBI who were assigned to investigate the original leak of the NSA program’s existence to the media. He also writes that numerous other investigators and officials, including members of Congress and the members of a federal civil liberties board, had been granted access to or been briefed on the program. On March 21, he will write to Gonzales’s deputy, “In contrast, our repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA program have not been granted.” Gonzales will defend the president’s decicion by saying, in a letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), that Bush “decided that protecting the secrecy and security of the program requires that a strict limit be placed on the number of persons granted access to information about the program for non-operational reasons. Every additional security clearance that is granted for the [program] increases the risk that national security might be compromised.” In other words, granting the OPR investigators routine security clearances, as has been done countless times in the last three decades as well as in the instances noted by Jarrett, would have jeopardized national security, according to Gonzales’s reasoning. [Associated Press, 5/11/2006; USA Today, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “It is very difficult to understand why OPR was not given clearance so they could conduct their investigation,” Specter will say. “Many other lawyers in the Department of Justice had clearance.” [Boston Globe, 7/19/2006]
OPR Investigators Seeking Information Already in Justice Department's Possession - The questions surrounding the refusal to grant security clearances deepen when it is learned that the OPR investigators were only seeking information and documents relating to the NSA’s surveillance program that were already in the Justice Department’s possession, according to two senior government officials. The only classified information that OPR investigators were seeking was what had already been given to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Gonzales, and other department attorneys in their original approval and advice on the program, the two senior government officials say. OPR’s request was limited to documents such as internal Justice Department communications and legal opinions, and didn’t extend to secrets that are the sole domain of other agencies. [National Journal, 5/29/2006]
OPR No; Private Citizens Yes - Jarrett will also note in his March 21 letter that, while Bush refused security clearances to OPR investigators, five “private individuals” who serve on Bush’s “Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board have been briefed on the NSA program and have been granted authorization to receive the clearances in question.” Private citizens, especially those who serve only part-time on governmental panels, have traditionally been considered higher security risks than full-time government employees, who can lose their jobs or even be prosecuted for leaking to the press. Jarrett says that in contrast to the private individuals on Bush’s advisory board, OPR’s “repeated requests for access to classified information about the NSA have not been granted. As a result, this office, which is charged with monitoring the integrity of the department’s attorneys and with ensuring that the highest standards of professional ethics are maintained, has been precluded from performing its duties.” Michael Shaheen, who headed the OPR from its inception until 1997, will say that his staff “never, ever was denied a clearance” and that OPR under his leadership had conducted numerous investigations involving the activities of various attorneys general. “No attorney general has ever said no to me,” Shaheen says. [National Journal, 7/18/2006]
Inquiry Opened - The Justice Department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, will open a preliminary inquiry into how the FBI has used the NSA’s surveillance data, which has often been obtained without judicial warrants and is considered by many legal experts to be illegal. Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), who led the Congressional calls for an investigation of the NSA, says Bush’s decision is an example of “an administration that thinks it doesn’t have to follow the law.” [Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “We can’t have a president acting in a dictatorial fashion,” he says. [USA Today, 7/18/2006]
'Abusing' Their Offices? - Bruce Fein, a Republican constitutional lawyer who served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department, compares Gonzales unfavorably to Elliot Richardson, who resigned in 1973 rather than obey then-President Nixon’s order to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. “If he was like Elliot Richardson, he’d say, ‘Mr. President, I quit,’” Fein observes. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] In 2007, law professor and legal ethics expert Charles Wolfram will say that if Gonzales did not inform the president that he might be a target of the OPR investigation, then he ill-served Bush and abused “the discretion of his office” for his own benefit. However, Wolfram will continue, if Gonzales did inform Bush that the probe might harm Gonzales, then “both [men] are abusing the discretion of their offices.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]
Defending Bush's Decision - Bush officials dismiss the attempted investigation, and the criticisms by Fein, Hinchey, and others, as politically motivated. White House press secretary Tony Snow says the NSA wiretapping program is adequately supervised by internal oversight procedures, including periodic reviews by Gonzales. [Think Progress, 7/18/2006; Washington Post, 7/19/2006] “The Office of Professional Responsibility was not the proper venue for conducting that,” Snow says. He adds that Bush’s denial of the security clearances is warranted because “in the case of a highly classified program, you need to keep the number of people to it tight for reasons of national security, and that was what he did.” [National Journal, 3/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Maurice Hinchey, John Ashcroft, James Baker, Michael Shaheen, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, National Security Agency, Ronald Reagan, Jack Goldsmith, H. Marshall Jarrett, Elliot Richardson, George W. Bush, Alberto R. Gonzales, Archibald Cox, Glenn Fine, Arlen Specter, Charles Wolfram, Bruce Fein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Senate Judiciary Committee, Tony Snow

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Iraq Study Group (ISG), chaired by former Republican Secretary of State James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, holds an early-morning breakfast session with senior officials of the Bush administration, including President Bush, to discuss its 79 recommendations for the future conduct of the Iraq war. The White House essentially ignores the report (see December 2006). ISG member Lawrence Eagleburger will later say of Bush, “I don’t recall, seriously, that he asked any questions” during the meeting.
Former Senator's Recollection - Former Republican Senator Alan Simpson, another ISG member present at the breakfast meeting, later recalls: “It was an early-morning session, seven a.m., I think, breakfast, the day we trotted it out. And Jim and Lee said, ‘Mr. President, we will’—and Dick was there, [Vice President] Cheney was there—‘just go around the room, if you would, and all of us share with you a quick thought?’ And the president said fine. I thought at first the president seemed a little—I don’t know, just maybe impatient, like, ‘What now?’ He went around the room. Everybody stated their case. It just took a couple minutes. I know what I said. I said, ‘Mr. President, we’re not here to present this to vex or embarrass you in any way. That’s not the purpose of this. We’re in a tough, tough situation, and we think these recommendations can help the country out. We’ve agreed on every word here, and I hope you’ll give it your full attention.’ He said, ‘Oh, I will.’ And I turned to Dick, and I said, ‘Dick, old friend, I hope you’ll gnaw on this, too. This is very important that you hear this and review it.’ And he said, ‘I will, I will, and thanks.’ Then the president gave an address not too far after that. And we were called by [National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley on a conference call. He said, ‘Thank you for the work. The president’s going to mention your report, and it’ll be—there will be parts of it that he will embrace, in fact, and if he doesn’t happen to speak on certain issues, you know that they’ll be in full consideration in the weeks to come,’ or something like that. And we all listened with a wry smile. We figured that maybe five of the 79 recommendations would ever be considered, and I think we were pretty right.”
Hamilton's Recollection - Hamilton has similar recollections of the meeting and the administration’s response to the report: “Cheney was there, never said a word, not a—of course, the recommendations from his point of view were awful, but he never criticized. Bush was very gracious, said we’ve worked hard and did this great service for the country—and he ignored it so far as I can see. He fundamentally didn’t agree with it. President Bush has always sought, still seeks today, a victory, military victory. And we did not recommend that. The gist of what we had to say was a responsible exit. He didn’t like that.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, George W. Bush, Alan Simpson, Iraq Study Group, Lee Hamilton, James Baker, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lawrence Eagleburger

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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