A top agent in the FBI violated the agency’s policy by having “unauthorized contacts” with reporters, according to a Department of Justice report.
The partially-redacted report (pdf), which was obtained by Politico through the Freedom of Information Act, states that now-retired agent Michael Steinbach broke numerous bureau rules when he met with and communicated with reporters between 2014 and 2016 “in violation of the Public Affairs (PA) manual” and the FBI media relations policy guide.
Steinbach served as an executive assistant director at the FBI’s national security branch during the same time the bureau was investigating alleged ties between former President Donald Trump and Russia and Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state. He retired in February 2017.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office said the investigation into Steinbach was initiated “upon the receipt of records from the Federal Bureau of Investigation Insider Threat Unit,” alleging the agent had been having numerous extensive and unsupervised contacts with media “between January and November 2016.”
The DOJ watchdog said it “found indications that Steinbach received items of value from members of the media [REDACTED].”
“Steinbach had hundreds of contacts with the media for several years as Assistant Director for the Counterterrorism Division starting in June 2014 and then after his promotion to EAD of NSB in February 2016,” Horowitz’s office said in the report. “The 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 his social engagements were not authorized by the Office of Public Affairs (OPA).”
However, the report also noted that the OIG was “unable to determine who paid for the drinks or meals during these social engagements.”
The DOJ watchdog found that Steinbach “violated” a code in the federal regulations, the DOJ ethics handbook, and the FBI ethics policy guide “when he accepted tickets from members of the media to two black-tie dinner events, one valued at $225 and the other valued at $300, without prior authorization.”
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 job responsibilities.”
The DOJ watchdog “identified seven members of the media with whom Steinbach was in regular contact, and an additional 21 reporters with whom Steinbach had limited contact, during the time period from 2014 through February 2017,” and a review of his FBI emails and text messages found ongoing communication between him and the seven media members.
An analysis of his emails, phone calls, and text messages found that Steinbach had “communicated at least 66 times in 2014, 381 times in 2015, and 160 times in 2016” with one reporter. He communicated with another media member at least 105 times in 2016, according to the report.
Steinbach retired in February 2017 and declined an interview with the OIG, according to the report. Prosecution against him was also declined by the DOJ.
Steinbach also “had at least 27 in-person meetings with seven media members outside of FBI Headquarters between April 2014 and the date of his retirement,” the report states.
The former FBI agent was interviewed by the FBI in July 2017 on a “separate matter” but his communication with the media members was discussed, according to the report. During that interview, Steinbach “stated that he was authorized … to provide non-case related information to the media as background” and that he was frequently contacted by members of the media who were “relentless” in inquiring about a variety of national security issues.
During that interview, he “related that his general response to media inquiries was to direct reporters to OPA,” according to the report.
Steinbach is one of several officials who worked under ex-FBI director James Comey, who was removed from the bureau by President Donald Trump in 2017.
This is not the first time a member of the FBI has accepted free gifts from members of the media.
According to a report obtained by the Daily Caller in 2019, the former assistant director of FBI public affairs, Michael Kortan — who also worked for the bureau during investigations into Clinton and Trump-Russia — accepted gifts, including game tickets from reporters working at various outlets.
The Epoch Times has contacted the FBI and Steinbach for comment.