Michael Hastings, the investigative journalist who died in a high-speed car crash in June at the age of 33, is still the subject of an FBI investigation over “controversial reporting,” according to a redacted, three-page document that was released to Al Jazeera and doctoral candidate Ryan Shapiro on Tuesday.
In a declaration issued along with the document to Shapiro and Al Jazeera reporter Jason Leopold, FBI public liaison officer Dennis Argall stated that the bureau had successfully “located one responsive cross-reference entry” relating to a pending criminal investigation. Shapiro had joined Leopold in the Freedom of Information Act request.
Documents show that an investigation intended "to memorialize controversial reporting” was opened after Rolling Stone published a Hastings story in June 2012 about U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held captive by the Taliban since 2009. FBI documents allege that Hastings’ story, titled “America’s Last Prisoner of War” “ignited a media frenzy, speculating about the circumstances of … capture, and whether U.S. resources and effort should continue to be expended for his recovery.”
Hastings’ death was and continues to be fraught with conspiracy theories. Suspicion of foul play early on was augmented by revelations that Hastings had told a WikiLeaks lawyer he was under investigation by the FBI just hours before he died, and by similar emails he sent to co-workers, in which he warned that the government was interviewing his “close friends and associates.” However, Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI, categorically denied those claims, telling Politico in June, three days after Hastings’ death, “At no time was Michael Hastings under investigation by the FBI.”
Eimiller made similar comments again on Tuesday, when she told Al Jazeera that “being referenced in an FBI file does not make one the subject of an FBI investigation.”
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Within hours of the story’s publication, Leopold tweeted that he had received a phone call from an FBI spokeswoman who “reamed” him out about the Hastings story. “She said she’s going to say bad things abt me to reporters,” he wrote.
“I told FBI spox I welcome agency being more transparent and disclosing what pending criminal probe relates to in order to resolve the issue,” he tweeted. “But FBI spox declined the offer.”
Hastings’ widow, Elisa Jordan, dismissed rumors that her husband’s death was anything other than an accident in an August interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan. Jordan acknowledged that Hastings was likely pursuing not one, but five “hot” stories, at the time of his death, but brushed off the question of conspiracy theories.
“I have no doubt that he was pursuing a hot story. He always had at least five hot stories going. That was Michael,” Jordan said. “Right now the LAPD still has an active investigation …[But] my gut here is that it was just a really tragic accident and I’m very unlucky, and the world was very unlucky.”
An official autopsy report released in late August attributed Hastings’ death to “traumatic injuries” he sustained in the car crash. A toxicology report also concluded that Hastings had traces of drugs in his system at the time of the crash, but ruled that they were “unlikely contributory to death.”