Michael Kortan, the head of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs until his retirement early in 2018, during his tenure accepted baseball tickets from reporters with CNN and The New York Times and lied about the gifts under oath, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (OIG).
Kortan accepted three tickets from a CNN correspondent for Major League Baseball games in May 2016 and September 2016, the OIG determined. He also accepted a playoff game ticket from a New York Times reporter in October 2014.
Investigators flagged Kortan’s communications with the CNN reporter as part of the inspector general’s review of the FBI and DOJ’s actions in advance of the 2016 election. The report found that multiple FBI employees accepted gifts from the media in violation of FBI policy.
During an interview under oath, Kortan lied about repaying the reporters for the tickets. He retired on Feb. 16, 2018, during the course of the investigation. The DOJ declined to prosecute Kortan’s potential criminal violations.
The OIG concluded its investigation into Kortan in October 2018 but issued only a brief report, which didn’t identify Kortan nor name the media companies involved. The Epoch Times obtained a detailed report (pdf) on the investigation via a Freedom of Information Act request.
The New York Times and CNN didn’t respond to requests for comment.
After claiming under oath that he repaid the CNN correspondent for two tickets, valued at $65 each, to the Washington Nationals game against the Miami Marlins on Sept. 30, 2016, Kortan circled back with the OIG and admitted that he didn’t pay the reporter back. He said he later recalled that he left the game because of rain, so the reporter had declined to accept the money. He also changed his testimony about who his guest was at the game, admitting that the guest was a female FBI employee, not a civilian, as he previously claimed.
The female FBI employee told the OIG that she was familiar with the CNN correspondent from watching television.
During a subsequent interview, Kortan admitted to lying about the type of seats he received with the tickets. The seats were in a members-only section reserved for season-ticket holders, not general seats as Kortan had claimed.
Kortan was also unable to produce proof that he repaid the same CNN correspondent for a $65 ticket to a May 9, 2016, Nationals game and a New York Times reporter for an October 2014 game, which he only recalled as the “18-inning game.” The OIG didn’t find any evidence that Kortan paid the reporters back.
“In view of the fact that Kortan’s claim under oath that he paid for the September 2016 tickets proved not to be true, the absence of any communication or evidence relating to payment for the May 2016 and the 18 inning game tickets, and Kortan’s lack of candor with respect to several issues surrounding the September 2016 tickets, the OIG did not credit Kortan’s statements that he paid for the May 2016 and 18 inning game tickets,” the OIG report states.
The investigators reviewed Kortan’s official FBI emails and text messages, work hard drive, FBI-issued mobile device, and financial records.
“I have an extra ticket for tomorrow nights Nats game. Would you like to join?” the CNN correspondent wrote to Kortan on May 8, 2016. “Good seats.”
“I’m in!” Kortan replied.
“Great,” wrote the CNN correspondent.
Kortan and the CNN correspondent had beers, according to subsequent text messages.
The inspector general determined that the CNN and New York Times reporters both counted as “prohibited sources” under the statute prohibiting gifts to federal employees. As a result, Kortan broke federal law by accepting gifts from the reporters, the OIG concluded.
Kortan told the investigators that he never disclosed information in violation of FBI guidelines.
Kortan’s name appears thirty times in the OIG’s final report on actions taken by the FBI and DOJ ahead of the 2016 election. The report mostly focuses on the handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of an unauthorized email server to conduct public business.
According to the report, Kortan coordinated media coverage and participated in high-level calls. He arranged the Oct. 21, 2016, damage control call during which FBI agent Peter Strzok briefed former bureau officials about the handling of the Clinton-email probe. The briefing was meant to try to get the former officials to “stop criticizing the case,” FBI attorney Lisa Page told the OIG.