A senior FBI agent violated agency policy by having “unauthorized contact” with reporters, according to a Justice Department report.
The partially redacted report (pdf), which was obtained by Free Beacon through the Freedom of Information Act, says now-retired agent Michael Steinbach broke numerous bureau rules when he met and communicated with journalists between 2014 and 2016 “in violation of the Public Affairs (PA) Handbook” and the FBI’s Media Relations Policy Guide.
Steinbach served as Deputy Executive Director of the FBI’s National Security Branch while the bureau investigated former President Donald Trump’s alleged ties to Russia and Hillary Clinton’s use of a mail server private while she was Secretary of State. He retired in February 2017.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office said the investigation into Steinbach was initiated “upon receipt of records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Insider Threat Unit,” alleging the agent had extensive contact in-depth and unsupervised with the media “between January and November 2016.”
The DOJ watchdog said it “found indications that Steinbach received valuables from members of the media. [REDACTED].”
“Steinbach had hundreds of media contacts over several years as Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Division beginning in June 2014 and then following his promotion to NSB’s EAD in February 2016,” Horowitz’s office said. in the report. “Media contact included social engagements outside of FBI headquarters, without any coordination from the Office of Public Affairs, involving drinks, lunches, and dinners.”
Horowitz’s office said it found “no indication that the FBI agent had a pre-existing personal relationship with any of the media members and that his social engagements were not authorized by the Bureau of public affairs (OPA)”.
However, the report also noted that the OIG was “unable to determine who paid for drinks or meals at these social engagements.”
The DOJ watchdog found that Steinbach had “violated” a code in federal regulations, the DOJ ethics manual and the FBI ethics policy guide “when he accepted tickets from members of the media for two black-tie dinners, one valued at $225 and the other valued at $300, without prior clearance.
Steinbach accepted free tickets to the Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner in 2015 and the White House Correspondents Association Dinner in 2016, according to the report. On both occasions he attended as a guest of reporters who “covered the FBI as part of their professional responsibilities”.
The DOJ watchdog “identified seven members of the media with whom Steinbach was in regular contact, and 21 other journalists with whom Steinbach had limited contact, during the period from 2014 to February 2017,” and a review of his FBI emails and SMS messages found continued communication between him and the seven members of the media.
An analysis of his emails, phone calls and text messages revealed that Steinbach had “communicated at least 66 times in 2014, 381 times in 2015 and 160 times in 2016” with a journalist. He contacted another member of the media at least 105 times in 2016, according to the report.
Steinbach retired in February 2017 and declined an interview with OIG, according to the report. The charges against him were also dismissed by the DOJ.
Steinbach also “had at least 27 in-person meetings with seven members of the media outside of FBI headquarters between April 2014 and the date of his retirement,” the report said.
The former FBI agent was questioned by the FBI in July 2017 on a “separate matter,” but his communication with members of the media was discussed, according to the report. During this interview, Steinbach “stated that he was authorized … to provide information unrelated to the case to the media as background” and that he was frequently contacted by members of the media who were “unrelenting” to inquire into various matters of national security. .
During that interview, he “recounted that his general response to media inquiries was to direct reporters to the OPA,” according to the report.
Steinbach is one of several officials who worked under former FBI Director James Comey, who was removed from his post by President Donald Trump in 2017.
This is not the first time an FBI member has accepted free gifts from members of the media.
According to a report obtained by The Daily Caller in 2019, former FBI Deputy Public Affairs Director Michael Kortan — who also worked for the bureau during the Clinton and Trump-Russia investigations — accepted gifts, including gifts. match tickets of reporters working at various electrical outlets.
The FBI told The Epoch Times, “The FBI expects all of our employees to adhere to the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and when one of ours fails to meet those standards, we take those allegations very seriously. seriously. As noted in the report, in 2016 the FBI referred the activities of this former employee to the DOJ Inspector General’s Office for investigation. To be clear, the former employee was in violation of our media policy then, just as he would be now, and his conduct was completely unacceptable.