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.”