A former senior FBI official who oversaw the bureau’s politically sensitive investigations in 2016 into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and Donald Trump’s ties to Russia had “extensive contacts” with the news media in violation of FBI policy, says a Justice Department watchdog report described by Politico.
A report made public Monday identified him as Michael Steinbach, who was the executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Bureau. “Steinbach had hundreds of contacts with the media for several years” while heading up the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and then continued such interactions in 2016 when he took up the senior national security role, said Inspector General Michael Horowitz. “This media contact included social engagements outside of FBI headquarters without any coordination from Office of Public Affairs (OPA), involving drinks, lunches and dinners.”
The heavily redacted report, released under the Freedom of Information Act, does not accuse Steinbach of unauthorized disclosures to the media. However, Horowitz’s office has expressed concerns that extensive, unsupervised contacts between FBI officials and the media can lead to such leaks and make them harder to investigate. A 2018 OIG report looking at FBI actions during the 2016 presidential election said the FBI’s policy on media contacts was being “widely ignored” and said violations of that policy appeared to emanate from a “cultural attitude.” The report says “prosecution was declined." Steinbach retired from the FBI in 2017 after a 22-year career at the agency.