A scandal that began to unravel in Charlotte ends in Charlotte on Thursday when former CIA Director David Petraeus is expected to admit sharing top government secrets with his biographer and lover.
Under a February agreement with prosecutors, Petraeus, 62, will plead guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine. The government will recommend that punishment for the former commanding general in Iraq and Afghanistan be limited to two years’ probation and a $40,000 fine.
U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler, who will preside over Petraeus’ hearing, is not bound by the plea deal. But legal experts say judges typically give great weight to such agreements.
Critics say the retired general is getting off light, given how zealously the Obama administration has pursued government leaks. By comparison, CIA analyst and case officer John Kiriakou, the whistleblower who revealed the secret CIA torture program, is serving a 30-month sentence. Open-government groups say President Barack Obama’s lieutenants have prosecuted more leakers than the rest of U.S. administrations combined.
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“It’s hard to reconcile cases like that, and it leads to the conclusion that senior officials are held to a different and more forgiving standard than others,” said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C.
The case against Petraeus, a former Obama confidant, has apparently troubled the administration from the start. The New York Times reported earlier this year that Attorney General Eric Holder was resisting the recommendations of his staff to charge Petraeus with a felony that could have led to possible prison time.
Petraeus resigned three days after Obama’s 2012 re-election. Up to then, the retired four-star general was among the most respected military leaders of modern times. He was sometimes mentioned as a future presidential or vice presidential candidate.
Messages from Dilworth
That all began to change three years ago.
Paula Broadwell of Charlotte had already written “All In,” Petraeus’ biography. But in May 2012, the West Point graduate began sending a series of anonymous emails disparaging Jill Kelley of Tampa, Fla. Kelley was a friend of Petraeus and other military leaders. Broadwell, documents say, considered her a romantic rival.
Using “Tampa Angel” and at least one other pseudonym, Broadwell sent some of her emails from the old Dilworth Coffee shop on East Boulevard.
Within weeks, the FBI had traced the messages back to Broadwell. In June 2012, agents visited the Dilworth home she shares with her husband, radiologist Scott Broadwell, and their two children. A search of her email accounts uncovered the affair. Prosecutors say Broadwell’s computer housed classified information that went far beyond her security clearance as a major in the Army Reserve.
Petraeus resigned as CIA director on Nov. 9, 2012.
Court documents filed by acting U.S. Attorney Jill Rose of Charlotte and others say Petraeus shared eight “black books” with Broadwell that he compiled in Afghanistan. Prosecutors say the books held everything from secret codes and the identities of covert officers, to war strategy and notes from National Security Council meetings. Broadwell kept the books for at least four days beginning in August 2011, prosecutors say. The FBI later seized the books during an April 2013 raid on Petraeus’ home.
Petraeus lied to investigators about both having classified information and sharing it with Broadwell, according to court documents. Prosecutors say none of the classified material appeared in Broadwell’s book.
This week, the political sensitivity of the scandal surfaced in a leaked court document. In a suit against the FBI and Defense Department, Jill Kelley accuses federal agents of violating her privacy by illegally seizing personal information from her computer and then leaking details to the media.
Last month, in a deposition filed by an FBI agent contacted by Kelley after she had received Broadwell’s emails, the agent said his bosses showed little interest in pursuing Kelley’s complaint, according to a CNN report.
“No one wants to be involved in a case like this during an election cycle,” the agent said he was told by a supervisor.
No charges against Broadwell
Broadwell was not charged in connection with the emails she sent to Kelley and others. In theory, she still could be accused by a civilian or military court for possessing classified information. But given the light sentence proposed for Petraeus, legal experts have said it’s unlikely that the Justice Department or the Pentagon will push for her prosecution.
That Broadwell was working as a writer when she received the classified material further complicates any possible case. Media and law experts say the government has not mounted a successful prosecution against a journalist possessing classified information in decades.
Broadwell, who met Petraeus as a Harvard University graduate student in 2006, is now writing about such topics as personal fitness and human trafficking for an online newsletter. Since arriving in Charlotte, she has also publicly championed returning veterans and Wounded Warriors.
In May 2013, she apologized for the affair during a brief TV interview. Since then, she has declined to discuss it.
Broadwell did not respond to an Observer email this week. One of her attorneys, Josh Levy of Washington, declined to comment on Tuesday. So did Charlotte attorney Jake Sussman, who is part of Petraeus’ defense team.
Rose, who will lead the prosecution in Thursday’s hearing, also declined to comment.
Petraeus’ sentencing is open to the public and is expected to draw national media coverage. His 2 p.m. hearing has been scheduled for the largest courtroom in the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building, and an auxiliary room has been set aside to handle any overflow.
Petraeus is required to attend.