Former FBI official had numerous illicit media contacts during 2016 campaign, watchdog says

The heavily redacted 27-page report, released to POLITICO under the Freedom of Information Act and dated July 2021, does not accuse Steinbach of unauthorized disclosures to the media. However, Horowitz’s office has expressed concern that extensive, unchecked contacts between FBI officials and the media could lead to such leaks and make them more difficult to investigate.

The OIG’s 2018 report, which looks at the Bureau’s actions during the 2016 presidential election, said the FBI’s media outreach policies were “widely ignored” and violations of those policies appeared to stem from a “generalization of media outreach.” cultural attitude”.

A passage in the recently released report says “prosecution has been dismissed,” but the rest of that line was redacted from the copy made public Monday.

Steinbach, who retired from the FBI in February 2017 after a 22-year law enforcement career, did not respond to emails and social media posts requesting comment on the report.

The Inspector General’s report also accuses Steinbach of accepting free tickets to two major media galas in Washington: the Radio & Television Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2015 and the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2016. The report says that he was required to get approval from the FBI ethics officers and did not do so. He also failed to disclose the tickets on his annual financial disclosure form, the report said.

According to the report, Steinbach had at least 27 face-to-face meetings with seven reporters from 2014 until his retirement three years later. They visited several restaurants near FBI headquarters, including Capital Grille, Gordon Biersch, Asia Nine and Central, according to the report, which says investigators “couldn’t determine who paid for the drinks or meals during these social engagements.”

The report admits that Steinbach did interact with FBI officials on public affairs about a “limited” number of the interactions, but said there was no record of such coordination in many cases.

Steinbach declined to be interviewed by the Inspector General’s office, which has no way of enforcing such an interview after an officer retires or resigns. However, a few months into his retirement, he did answer questions in another FBI investigation and insisted his interactions with journalists were cleared.

“Steinbach stated that while EAD was with the NSB, he was authorized to provide background non-case information to the media,” the report said. “Steinbach said he was often approached by the media for comments and questions regarding a variety of national security issues, and the media were ‘relentless’ and ‘aggressive’ in their efforts to get a story.”

While the Inspector General’s report called the FBI’s media policies “unequivocal,” some FBI officials interviewed during the investigation disagreed.

“The policy was not clear about what was needed or considered approved and that ‘coordination with OPA’ was completely undefined,” said an official whose name had been removed from the report.

An official said Steinbach told him former FBI Director James Comey urged top officials to be more involved with the press.

“Comey’s approach involved proactively seeking out media sources the FBI could trust to get stories right and protect the FBI’s brand,” said an unnamed official.

The report contains numerous text and email exchanges between Steinbach and various reporters, whose names and news organizations were black in almost all cases.

However, the report cites an unnamed CNN reporter who pranks Steinbach with a text about attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner with another journalist.

“I put you on the map and now you’re cheating on me with” another reporter, the CNN reporter wrote.

“I kept waiting for my invitation from you,” Steinbach replied, according to the report.

A CNN spokesperson did not immediately comment Monday night.

FBI spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment Monday, but Director Christopher Wray — who was confirmed in August 2017 following Trump’s firing of Comey — insisted after the release of the Inspector General’s 2018 report that the FBI was too relaxed. in her dealings with the media.

“We have issued a new media policy that is much stricter and much clearer than before,” Wray said at the time. “We will make it painfully clear to everyone that we will not tolerate non-compliance.”

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