A former senior FBI official who reportedly oversaw a number of high-profile investigations in the lead-up to the 2016 election, including the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server, had dozens of unauthorized contacts with members of the media before he resigned, according to the Department of Justice’s official watchdog.
Michael Steinbach, the FBI’s former acting director of the Counterterrorism Division, had 27 in-person meetings with reporters from 2014 to 2017 and also attended two black-tie dinners in Washington as a guest of a reporter, according to the report from DOJ’s Office of Inspector General obtained by The Post.
The OIG report, which was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, states Steinbach was “soliciting” a reporter from an unspecified outlet for a ticket to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2015, on the same night he attended the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association dinner.
“Lots of [redacted] reporters here. May have to branch out!” Steinbach wrote to the unidentified reporter in a text message on the night of the 2015 dinner.
“Absolutely not!!! But curious to know who you’ve met so far?” the reporter responded, adding: “well they will never be as good as me! and don’t you get the big head! ;)”
“But they are promising the WH Correspondents dinner,” Steinbach responded.
A year later, Steinbach attended the White House Correspondents’ dinner and a reception party as a guest of a reporter — and boasted about it in a text to an unidentified CNN reporter.
“I put you on the map and now you’re cheating on me with [redacted],” the CNN reporter wrote in a text message to Steinbach.
“I kept waiting for my invite from you,” Steinbach responded.
After the $300-a-ticket event, Steinbach sent an email to a reporter with the subject “Great Night” that included a photo of an unidentified person standing with the journalist in front of the White House Correspondents’ Association banner.
“Thanks for hanging out with us last night [redacted] and I had a great time. And also thank you for giving us a lift. That was nice. I know it has been [sic] very busy year but when it slows down and as the weather gets nicer, we would love to grab [sic] gold drinks with you and [redacted] either in the city somewhere or at our house,” the email read, in part.
In addition to the dinners, Steinbach had numerous lunches with journalists in Washington from 2014 to 2017, including at restaurants Asia Nine, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Elephant & Castle and Oyamel Cocina Mexicana.
“The OIG notes that it was unable to determine who paid for the drinks or meals during these social engagements,” the report states.
As part of the investigation, the Inspector General’s Office interviewed an “FBI senior official” regarding policies for contact with the media.
The official told investigators that Steinbach told them that then-Director James Comey “was trying to change the way the FBI dealt with the media.”
The senior official said, “I think Director Comey, more than any director I ever heard, fully understood the concept that we’re only as good as our ability to listen to information with people,” the report states.
“And when you take your credentials out, it needs to mean something. And the only way to do that is to have the trust. And the only way to get the trust is to have good will and the media is part of that, right?” they added.
Steinbach, who did not respond to a request for comment, resigned from the FBI in February 2017 and declined to be interviewed in the OIG probe.
The report notes the watchdog concluded that Steinbach violated federal regulations and FBI protocol and its findings would be delivered to the FBI.
“Prosecution was declined,” the report adds.