Inside the Courts

Petraeus v. Hillary Clinton: Separate and unequal

Hillary Clinton listens to President Barack Obama in Charlotte last week, the same day FBI Director James Comey criticized her use of private computers to store government emails and other documents. Comey said no charges would be filed.
Hillary Clinton listens to President Barack Obama in Charlotte last week, the same day FBI Director James Comey criticized her use of private computers to store government emails and other documents. Comey said no charges would be filed. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

It’s one thing to mislead the public. It’s another to lie to the FBI.

That fact alone opens a significant gap between the mishandling of government documents by both David Petraeus and Hillary Clinton.

In the first case, the FBI charged a decorated war hero with a crime. In the second, the agency’s director gave the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee a verbal lashing, but nothing more.

Charlotte residents have had a vested interest in the Petraeus case for almost four years – ever since he resigned as CIA director after his affair with his biographer, Charlotte author Paula Broadwell, became public. The FBI found classified information on Broadwell’s home computers, and the retired general came here last year to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling government documents.

I’ve been covering the case for more than two years. Each time I write, the emails from readers roll in wondering when I’ll start reporting about Clinton with equal vigor.

Well, here goes.

Last week, FBI Director Jim Comey said his agency would not charge Clinton for using home computers to store emails and other documents while she was secretary of state. He strongly criticized Clinton and her aides for their carelessness, and he has made it clear that Clinton lied to the public about what she had done. But Comey concluded that based on what his agents found, “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges.

Republican Donald Trump, Clinton’s rival for the White House, tweeted differently: “General Petraeus got in trouble for far less.”

Does Comey agree? “No, it’s the reverse,” he told a congressional committee Thursday.

Federal prosecutors say Petraeus and Broadwell shared “vast” amounts of classified records. But the case boiled down to eight black books Petraeus kept while he was the top military commander in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those books contained the identities of covert officers, war strategy, notes from National Security Council meetings, even Petraeus’ conversations with President Barack Obama.

He was supposed to turn the books over to the military when he left the Army. Instead, he kept them, and for five days in August 2011, he left them with Broadwell while she visited Washington, D.C.

When the FBI confronted Petraeus about the exchange of information with Broadwell, the soon-to-be ex-CIA director lied. Comey says his agents later found the black books in Petraeus’ home.

“So you have obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information,” Comey told the congressional committee.

FBI director James Comey announced Tuesday that he recommends no charges in the Hillary Clinton email probe. However, Comey said there's evidence that Clinton and her aides were "extremely careless" in the handling of classified information. The r

Mark Zaid, a Washington, D.C., attorney who specializes in government secrecy cases, said Petraeus’ decision to play fast and loose with the truth escalated the damage. “The worst thing you want to do is be perceived as lying to the FBI,” he says. “They take it really personally and they really come after you.”

In fact, some prosecutors and FBI agents in Charlotte wanted to charge Petraeus with the felony obstruction charge. Former Attorney General Eric Holder declined.

With Clinton, one of the key numbers is three – the total number of emails found on her home computers that were marked as classified, Comey says.

Clinton has other problems – misleading or inaccurate comments about never sending or receiving work emails on her personal account while exaggerating the steps she took to maintain security. And there is “no doubt,” Comey says, that an unknown number of government emails were deleted from her computers. Unlike Petraeus, however, there’s no indication Clinton shared the information with a third party, and she never lied to the FBI.

“You’re going to derail the Democratic nominee for president over this? No way,” Zaid says.

Clinton did lie to the public. But that’s now a matter for the voters to decide, not a grand jury.

  Comments