The FBI’s top press officer during the Hillary Clinton and Trump-Russia investigations accepted tickets to a Washington Nationals game from a CNN correspondent and lied about it repeatedly during interviews with the Justice Department’s inspector general, according to a report obtained by The Daily News Foundation.
Michael Kortan, who served as assistant director of public affairs, displayed a “lack of candor” during multiple interviews under oath with the DOJ watchdog about how he obtained the tickets, who we went with, and whether he reimbursed the CNN journalist, according to the report.
“The OIG…concluded that Kortan lacked candor under oath when he provided answers to OIG’s questions relating to the September 2016 tickets that were misleading and false,” reads the report, which the DCNF obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
FBI policy prohibits employees from receiving gifts from “prohibited sources,” including journalists who cover the bureau.
The office of the inspector general (OIG), which is led by Michael Horowitz, discovered Kortan’s contacts with the CNN reporter during a review of his text messages as part of the investigation into the FBI’s activities during the 2016 presidential election.
Kortan’s media contacts and those of other FBI officials are noted on page 430 of the DOJ inspector general’s report from June 14, 2018, regarding the bureau’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.
On Oct. 16, 2018, the OIG separately released a summary of the Kortan investigation (though without identifying him). The summary said that the Justice Department declined prosecution in the case.
The full investigative report shows that Kortan resigned from the FBI on Feb. 16, 2018, while the OIG investigation was ongoing. He could not be reached for comment for this story.
As part of the investigation, OIG investigators searched Kortan’s FBI-issued phones and email accounts, as well as his financial records. They also interviewed Washington Nationals security personnel to ascertain the quality of seats that Kortan was gifted.
Kortan worked closely with the CNN reporter, who is not identified, and considered him one of his “top five” press contacts.
Kortan accepted Nationals tickets from the reporter at least twice, for a May 9, 2016 game and another on Sept. 30, 2016. He also accepted tickets from a New York Times reporter in either 2014 or 2016.
The OIG report cites text messages which indicate that the FBI official attended the May 9, 2016 game with the reporter. The reporter contacted Kortan on Sept. 27, 2016, offering up four tickets.
“Nats v Marlins Friday night. I have to be away,” the reporter wrote on Sept. 27, 2016. “Can you use four tix?”
“I’m good for 2 tix if that’s OK,” replied Kortan.
Kortan initially told investigators with the OIG in a March 29, 2017 interview, that he reimbursed the reporter for the tickets, and denied accepting any gifts from members of the press.
“Kortan described the CNN correspondent as one of his ‘top five’ contacts with the press as part of his job,” the report says. Kortan denied having a personal relationship with any of the reporters, saying that he didn’t “consider anybody a friend.”
He also said that he had “probably daily contact” with the CNN reporter to discuss “the news of the day.”
When asked whether he paid for the tickets, Kortan was initially adamant that he did.
“I have never accepted them without reimbursement,” he said in the March 29, 2017 interview, referring to the tickets. “I always reimburse the amount of the ticket as a routine, just because I do.”
Kortan also gave a misleading answer when asked about the location of the tickets, the OIG report says. He initially said that the tickets — which cost $65 apiece — were in “general seating.”
Showing the depth of the probe, on Oct. 4, 2017, OIG investigators went to Nationals ballpark to meet with the team’s manager of security and executive director of ticket operations to ascertain the quality of the tickets. They found that the tickets were in a “Members Only” section, and not in general seating, as Kortan claimed.
“Kortan said that he did not feel obligated to provide the CNN correspondent with preferential treatment as a result of the tickets,” the report says, quoting Kortan as saying: “I’m not friends with anybody. I don’t see anybody socially. I have no personal relationships with any reporters. Never have.”
Kortan also denied releasing information to reporters “inappropriately or illegally.”
But Kortan would contact the OIG multiple more times after his initial interview to revise his statements.
On April 3, 2017, he said that he could no longer recall whether he repaid the CNN correspondent for the tickets. He said that he intended to reimburse the reporter when they met two weeks later, but the reporter declined. Kortan also reversed his previous statement that his guest at the game was not with the FBI, admitting that a fellow FBI colleague went with him to the Sept. 30, 2016 game.
The OIG deemed the CNN reporter a “prohibited source” because of his job covering the FBI and law enforcement beat.
“Accordingly, as part of the CNN correspondent’s job responsibilities, he sought official action by Kortan and the FBI, conducted business with the FBI, and his interests were substantially affected by the performance or nonperformance of Kortan and the FBI’s responses to his requests for information and commentary for reporting on the FBI and its work,” the report says.
The investigation bears some resemblance into an investigation of Andrew McCabe, the former FBI deputy director.
The OIG found that McCabe displayed a “lack of candor” during multiple interviews about whether he authorized leaks to a reporter in October 2016 for a story about an investigation of the Clinton Foundation. McCabe directed his chief counsel, Lisa Page, to make contact with Devlin Barrett, who worked for the Wall Street Journal at the time.
Kortan worked with Page to provide information to Barrett, according to FBI documents.
Unlike in the Kortan probe, the Justice Department has conducted a grand jury investigation of McCabe, who was fired from the FBI on March 16, 2018. The status of the case remains in limbo.
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