David Petraeus pleads guilty, but investigation remains open

Retired General David Petraeus arrives for his consolidated plea and sentencing hearings at the U.S. Courthouse in Charlotte, Thursday, April 23, 2015. The former commanding general and CIA director is accused of sharing top government secrets with his biographer/lover, Paula Broadwell of Charlotte.
Retired General David Petraeus arrives for his consolidated plea and sentencing hearings at the U.S. Courthouse in Charlotte, Thursday, April 23, 2015. The former commanding general and CIA director is accused of sharing top government secrets with his biographer/lover, Paula Broadwell of Charlotte. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

On a day when David Petraeus spoke of moving on, an investigation into the retired general’s mishandling of government secrets may now turn toward his former lover, Paula Broadwell of Charlotte.

In an exclusive interview with the Observer, acting U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose said Thursday that while the government’s case against Petraeus may have closed, the investigation has not.

Asked specifically if Broadwell remained a target, Rose replied, “This is an ongoing investigation. This case is not over.”

Petraeus, 62, pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified information. According to court documents, he shared the information with Broadwell, his biographer, then lied about doing so to the FBI.

U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler of Charlotte sentenced the former CIA director and military commander to two years probation and a $100,000 fine – more than twice the amount spelled out in the plea bargain between Petraeus and his prosecutors. The crime carried up to one year in prison.

Broadwell, 42, did not respond to an Observer email seeking comment Thursday. Typically, the West Point grad and her family appear to leave their Dilworth home during big events related to the scandal involving Petraeus and her.

Broadwell attorney Robert Muse said his client would have no comment.

But on the day of Petraeus’ sentencing, Broadwell sent out a 4:30 a.m. tweet showing an image displaying a light at the end of the tunnel.

That maybe have been premature.

Three years ago, Broadwell sent anonymous emails from a Charlotte coffee house that threatened and disparaged a female friend of Petraeus’. The resulting FBI investigation discovered both her affair and highly classified government documents on Broadwell’s home computer.

The FBI later found that Petraeus shared eight “black books” of secret codes, highly sensitive diplomatic information and wartime strategies with Broadwell in 2011. At the time, she was writing, “All In,” Petraeus’ biography.

None of the classified information appeared in the book, documents say. Broadwell was not charged in connection with the emails she sent to Petraeus’ friend. Legal experts say that because she was working as a journalist when she received the classified material from Petraeus, any government prosecution would be harder to prove.

Yet, Rose’s comments are the strongest yet to tie her to the criminal investigation being run by federal prosecutors and the FBI office in Charlotte.

Petraeus, who resigned from the CIA when his affair with Broadwell became public in 2012, apologized during a brief courtroom statement, then repeated his regrets outside the federal courthouse in uptown.

“Today marks the end of a 21/2-year ordeal that resulted from mistakes that I made,” Petraeus read as television helicopters thumped overhead. “I now look forward to moving on with the next phase of my life and continuing to serve our great nation as a private citizen.”

Petraeus looked the part. Without the weight and gravitas of his military uniform, the former military icon seemed every bit the white-collar criminal suspect as he passed through a media gauntlet on his way into the courthouse.

Two military veterans were among the onlookers gathered along West Trade Street.

As Petraeus walked onto the courthouse grounds with Charlotte attorney Jake Sussman at his side, the Rev. Raymond Johnson of Marion, S.C., strode along.

“We’re praying for you, general,” the Vietnam veteran shouted as media members flung questions at Petraeus. “Ask God to forgive you.”

Petraeus nodded, Johnson said.

A different reception was waiting when Petraeus began to leave the courthouse lawn after his sentencing.

“You know you should be in prison. They should have put you in jail,” Army veteran Sam Grier taunted as the former Army commander strode past.

Asked why he had rebuked Petraeus, Grier replied, “Because he compromised national security for a piece of a--.”

‘Lapse in judgment’

Inside the courtroom, Petraeus shook hands with Rose and the other prosecutors. Once seated, he pulled the microphone on the defense table close to him, as if preparing to address a congressional hearing, then answered Keesler’s questions with a strong, clear voice.

The judge was solicitous but plain-spoken about Petraeus’ crime, describing it as a “serious lapse of judgment” that stood “in stark contrast to 37 years of achievement.”

Rose, a distant relative of former Vietnam War commander William Westmoreland, said the country’s military leader in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had committed a serious crime.

“He was entrusted with the nation’s most sensitive security,” she said. “The defendant betrayed that trust.”

The Justice Department’s handling of the case has drawn questions and criticism from the start. While the FBI had confronted him months earlier, Petraeus did not resign as CIA director until a few days after President Barack Obama’s re-election.

According to published reports, federal prosecutors wanted to charge Petraeus with a more serious crime, but former Attorney General Eric Holder resisted.

Asked after the sentencing if Petraeus’ punishment was sufficient given the nature of his crime, Rose told the Observer: “This is plea agreement that (Holder) felt was appropriate in this case.”

Keesler did not. While prosecutors recommended a $40,000 fine, Keesler raised it to the $100,000 maximum “to reflect the seriousness of the offense.”

Petraeus gulped water from a paper cup while Keesler read his sentence to the courtroom. The judge wished him good luck. Petraeus expressed thanks.

Then Petraeus, who had earlier been described as “among the finest military officials of his generation,” left the room with several U.S. marshals.

Petraeus now had a criminal record. Before he could leave Charlotte, he had to be fingerprinted.

Staff writer Mark Washburn contributed.

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