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Fair Or Double Standard? Petraeus To Be Sentenced

US Government

This afternoon, David Petraeus will enter the federal courthouse in uptown, and be sentenced for violating the Espionage Act. Petraeus, a retired four-star general and former director of the CIA has admitted he gave his mistress access to classified information and lied to the FBI as they investigated the case. A plea agreement signed by Petraeus and federal prosecutors calls for a sentence of 2 years probation and a $40,000 fine. 

The government’s case against David Petraeus revolves around eight notebooks. Each with a black cover, and with Petraeus’ business card taped to the front.These notebooks were effectively diaries where Petraeus jotted down his daily appointments and meetings, and notes on highly classified meetings.

The plea deal states they contain quote the identities of covert officers, war strategies, quotes, deliberative discussions by the National Security Council and personal discussions between David Petraeus and the president.

Petraeus gave these “black books,” as they’re called in court documents, to his biographer and mistress – Paula Broadwell. She had security clearance – but not at a high enough level to see the contents.

On at least two occasions, Petraeus admits he lied to FBI investigators when he denied loaning the books to Broadwell. Then the FBI discovered an audio recording between Petraeus and Broadwell. It was made by Broadwell herself. The tape has not been made public but a partial transcript was published in the plea deal:

Credit Court Documents
Partial transcript of an exchange between David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell.

The plea deal was signed in February, and questions about whether the proposed sentence is too light soon surface. “I think there are concerns there is a real double standard here,” says Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the American University Washington College of Law.

Speaking on Charlotte Talks earlier this week, he referenced the case of Stephen Kim, a former State Department arms expert who leaked information on North Korea’s nuclear program to FOX News. Kim was sentenced last year to 13 month in prison.

“When you see this kind of disparate treatment, where someone like General Petraeus gets a glorified slap on the wrist and someone like Stephen Kim gets sent to jail, I think you have real concerns the statutes are being applied in a way where you keep your friends close and you send your enemies to jail,” Vladeck says.

There’s another perceived double standard. Paula Broadwell had her security clearance revoked as the scandal unfolded. Petraeus, however, still has his, and the general is still advising the White House on military issues – specifically ISIS extremists in Iraq.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest addressed the issue about a month after Petraeus agreed to plead guilty. “He is legitimately regarded as an expert when it comes to the security situation in Iraq,” Earnest said. “So I think it makes a lot of sense for senior administration officials, on occasion, consult him for advice.”

Credit Court Documents
David Petraeus signature on the plea agreement.

It also brings up what could be key factor as the federal judge decides his sentence: Petraeus’s history of service to the country. Before he admitted to being an adulterer and a criminal, General Petraeus was already a household name.

“When Insurgencies erupted in Iraq and Afghanistan early in this century, the U.S. military was completely unprepared for the wars it had to fight,” says retired Army Lt. Colonel John Nagl, an expert on fighting insurgents.    

As violence spread throughout Iraq, the city of Mosul and the surrounding areas were relatively peaceful while under the control of the 101st Airborne Division, at the time commanded by General David Petraeus.

"Petraeus very aggressively integrated economic development, political progress, as well as standard military tactics and operations in order to very rapidly conduct pretty effective counter insurgency in Mosul completely independently of what the rest of the U.S. military was doing,” Nagl says.

There was even a joke that the 101st was the only division in the military that had its own foreign policy. “David Petraeus opened the border of Iraq and Syria and reopened trade with Syria without any state department knowledge or help. In fact, Colin Powel, the Secretary of State reportedly found out that Iraq had reopened diplomatic relations with Syria via the 101st from watching it on CNN.”

It was a controversial move , but it worked at the time. Petraeus would go on to command coalition troops in Iraq, then NATO forces in Afghanistan. And the troop surges in both countries. With the help of military strategists like Nagl, Petraeus wrote the Counter Insurgency manual for the U.S. military. It changed the way the U.S. military fights and made Petraeus the public face of two American wars.

“So against that extraordinary string of accomplishments and public service comes a failing, the failing of a man,” Nagl says. Later today a judge will decide whether two years probation and $40,000 in fines are enough punishment for that failing. Petraeus faces as much as a year in prison and $100,000 in fines.

Tom Bullock decided to trade the khaki clad masses and traffic of Washington DC for Charlotte in 2014. Before joining WFAE, Tom spent 15 years working for NPR. Over that time he served as everything from an intern to senior producer of NPR’s Election Unit. Tom also spent five years as the senior producer of NPR’s Foreign Desk where he produced and reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon among others. Tom is looking forward to finally convincing his young daughter, Charlotte, that her new hometown was not, in fact, named after her.