Politics

Ex-FBI Official Who Oversaw Clinton And Trump Probes Had Unauthorized ‘Media Contacts,’ DOJ Says

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Gabe Kaminsky Investigative Reporter
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  • An FBI official who retired in 2017 violated bureau policy for having unauthorized “contacts” with media members, a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) watchdog report found. 
  • Michael Steinbach, who was the FBI’s acting director of the counterterrorism division, met in person with 27 reporters between 2014 and 2017, according to the report obtained by Politico. 
  • “Steinbach had hundreds of contacts with the media for several years,” the report says, according to Politico. “This media contact included social engagements outside of FBI headquarters without any coordination from Office of Public Affairs (OPA), involving drinks, lunches and dinners.”

A former senior FBI official who oversaw investigations involving both former President Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton violated bureau policy for his “extensive contacts” with media members, according to a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) watchdog report obtained by Politico Monday.

Michael Steinbach, the bureau’s former acting director of the counterterrorism division, met with reporters 27 times between 2014 and 2017, according to the DOJ’s 27-page Inspector General report obtained by Politico. Steinbach also was a guest of one reporter at two black tie dinners in Washington, D.C., an investigative summary by the DOJ in 2021 that withheld Steinbach’s name shows, the outlet reported.

“Steinbach had hundreds of contacts with the media for several years,” the report says, according to Politico. “This media contact included social engagements outside of FBI headquarters without any coordination from Office of Public Affairs (OPA), involving drinks, lunches and dinners.”

In 2018, the DOJ released a report on “various actions” by the FBI and DOJ “in advance of the 2016 election” that did not name Steinbach. The FBI’s policy on officials having contact with media was “widely ignored” due to a “cultural attitude,” the report said, and “numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media [] were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters.”

While Steinbach was a senior FBI official, the bureau was probing alleged ties between Trump and Russia partly stemming from a dossier funded by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee. The FBI was also probing Clinton’s handling of classified and “highly sensitive” information as secretary of state via her usage of a private email server.

The former FBI official went to both the Radio & Television Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2015 and the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2016 after accepting free tickets, Politico reported. The official did not obtain approval from FBI ethics officials, the outlet reported, and did not list the tickets on his annual financial disclosure form.

At the Radio & Television dinner, Steinbach solicited a reporter from an undisclosed outlet for a White House Correspondents’ dinner ticket, Politico reported.

“Lots of [redacted] reporters here. May have to branch out!” the former FBI official reportedly texted a journalist at the 2015 dinner.

“Absolutely not!!! But curious to know who you’ve met so far?” the journalist reportedly said in response, adding, “well they will never be as good as me! and don’t you get the big head! ;)”

In one year’s time Steinbach made his way to the White House Correspondents’ dinner and also a reporter’s party, according to Politico.

“I put you on the map and now you’re cheating on me with [redacted],” one reporter for CNN texted Steinbach, according to the outlet.

He reportedly responded, “I kept waiting for my invite from you.”

Restaurants Steinbach and members of the media frequented included Capital Grille, Gordon Biersch, Asia Nine and Central, according to Politico, which are all located nearby the FBI’s headquarters. However, investigators “were unable to determine who paid for the drinks or meals during these social engagements,” according to the outlet.

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the DOJ. (RELATED: ‘More Damaging Than Ever Before’: FBI Chief Calls Out China Ahead Of Olympics)

Michael Steinbach, assistant director in the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, speaks during a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on Capitol Hill June 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee held the hearing about the use of social media by terrorists. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

While Steinbach told the FBI after he had already retired that he was “authorized” to “provide non-case related information to the media as background,” he declined a request by the DOJ for an interview, according to Politico. One unnamed official in the report, the outlet says, told the inspector general that then-FBI Director James Comey wanted officials to speak with the media.

“Comey’s approach entailed proactively trying to find media sources that the FBI could trust to get stories right and to protect the brand of the FBI,” the unnamed official said, according to Politico.

The Daily Caller News Foundation could not reach Steinbach for comment.

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