A senior FBI official retired from the bureau amid an investigation that found the official had accepted sports tickets from a news reporter and falsely claimed to have paid for them, the Justice Department inspector general announced Tuesday.
The official, who was not identified, came onto the inspector general’s radar during the office’s review of various FBI actions in the run-up to the 2016 election — including its handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation and possibly inappropriate media disclosures.
As part of that case, the inspector general said, investigators examined text messages, which showed that the official accepted two tickets to a sporting event “as a gift” from a TV news correspondent who regularly covered the FBI and Justice Department.
The inspector general said that accepting the tickets violated federal regulations, which ban accepting gifts from certain people. The official, the inspector general said, initially claimed under oath to have paid for the tickets — only to acknowledge five days later that that was not true. The reporter was also not named.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray have vowed to crack down on leaks in federal law enforcement, and the inspector general’s work has served to advance that effort. In its 500-page report examining the FBI’s actions just before the 2016 election, the inspector general blasted the bureau for having a “a culture of unauthorized media contacts,” and said investigators had identified “social interactions between FBI employees and journalists that were, at a minimum, inconsistent with FBI policy and Department ethics rules.”
That report said that FBI employees went golfing with journalists, received tickets to sporting events from them and had after-work drinks and meals, and that separate reports would be issued on that conduct.
Under pressure from President Trump to stem embarrassing revelations, government agencies, including the Justice Department and FBI, have in recent years tried to crack down on informal interactions between reporters and the officials they cover.
Meanwhile, some conservatives asserted Tuesday that the inspector general’s report showed a double standard at the Justice Department — which has approved criminal charges for lying to the FBI against several former Trump advisers but did not do so for the senior FBI official. The inspector general said that prosecutors had declined to bring a case.
“Total hypocrisy,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter. “DOJ prosecutes Mike Flynn and George Papadopoulos for lying to the FBI. But a senior FBI official accepted free gifts from a media member, lied to the FBI about it, and faces no prosecution.”
Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, and Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, both pleaded guilty to lying to investigators during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s examination of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment.