A top FBI official repeatedly violated bureau policy by hobnobbing with journalists while overseeing the controversial investigation into Donald Trump’s suspected ties to Russia — and then retired before he could be interviewed by ethics probers, a newly released Justice Department report revealed.
Michael Steinbach “had numerous unauthorized contacts with the media” that began when he was the bureau’s assistant counterterrorism director and continued after he was named executive assistant director of its National Security Bureau in February 2016, according to the heavily redacted DOJ Inspector General report obtained by The Post through a freedom of information act request.
The “hundreds of contacts” included “soliciting” an unidentified reporter for a $300 ticket to the 2016 White House Correspondents’ Association gala after earlier getting invited by a different reporter to the 2015 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.
The following year, 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, retired 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.