Intelligence Community professionals should be outraged. And American men and women loyally and honorably serving in the military at all levels should be both furious and saddened.
I’m referring to “How Petraeus avoided felony charges, prison,” a front page article written by reporter Adam Goldman which appeared in the January 26, 2016 edition of The Washington Post (WP). For those who are not familiar with the Petraeus/Broadwell saga you can read Should he or Shouldn’t he? a blog I posted on March 9, 2015.
Goldman’s carefully crafted piece traces the torturous legal trail of retired four star army General David Petraeus. Starting with multiple felony charges and a possible jail sentence the reporter tracks the General to a Charlotte, North Carolina court room where he pled guilty to a simple misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information and admitting that he made “false statements” to the FBI. What Goldman found should trouble every American.
After lying to the FBI about his affair with Broadwell and providing her with classified data Petraeus , then the head of CIA, realized that his illustrious career faced ruin. His first instinct, however, was self-preservation. And in a move eerily reminiscent of the Watergate cover-up, he telephoned Sean Joyce, the Deputy Director of the FBI. Desperate to make his problem go away, he asked what Joyce could do to “quietly resolve the issue and avoid a scandal.” The veteran FBI agent wasted no time setting him straight. The criminal probe would follow the facts wherever they led.
When James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, learned of the inquiry he asked Petraeus for his resignation despite the general’s plea to stay on as CIA director. On November 9, 2012 he resigned.
The weight of the case against Petraeus and Broadwell was staggering. There were one hundred photographs of highly classified information taken by Broadwell from Top Secret notebooks the general had kept since his days as commander of US coalition forces in Afghanistan. The notebooks were found in a desk in Petraeus’ home. A search of Broadwell’s home surfaced classified information that she had kept since 2003 when she served on a Joint Terrorism Task Force in Denver, Colorado. Also recovered was an audio tape Broadwell recorded of her conversation with Petraeus in which he acknowledged that the notebooks contained classified information. The General’s lies, and the accumulated evidence found during the searches meant that both of them faced multiple felony charges.
The FBI’s investigation now moved across Pennsylvania Avenue and into the hands of the Department of Justice prosecutors. It was at this point that the law and Obama Administration politics intersected. After severe criticism following a string of high profile DOJ media leak investigations Attorney General Eric Holder painted himself into a corner in June 2013 by announcing that he would not indict journalists for doing their job. Broadwell’s attorney pounced on Holder claiming that she was a journalist simply doing her job. There was All-In, her flattering biography of General Petraeus as well as an assortment of op-ed pieces and articles that supported this point. Certain DOJ attorneys, fearful of facing a challenging legal question conceded her journalism credentials without considering the fact she was a serving army officer who slept with Petraeus in exchange for classified information. In the end politics trumped – Broadwell was not charged. Nor has she been reprimanded by the Army to date.
David Kendall is a high powered lawyer and Washington insider. His string of clients over the years reads like a “Who’s Who” of the capitol city’s glitterati. In addition to corporate giants like AOL he also advised President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. (It was Kendall who urged the President to pursue the legal argument that receiving oral sex did not constitute a sexual relationship.) At the moment he counsels former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her battle with the courts and the State Department over use of a private e-mail server for government business.
Petraeus dug deep to hire him and got every penny’s worth. Kendall’s scorched–earth approach terrified DOJ. His client had committed no crime. His lies were not lies at all. Kendell pointed prosecutors to DOJ guidelines which state that it is not the policy of the DOJ to charge someone “in situations in which a suspect during an investigation, merely denies guilt (Italics added) in response to questioning by the government.” Furthermore his denials were not material to the investigation and never impeded it. As for the classified information – much of had already made its way into the public domain, he argued, through books and articles written by former Cabinet officers. Besides, Broadwell never used any of it in her biography of the General. Kendall was adamant – Petraeus would not plead guilty to lying nor would he make any reference to his message to the CIA workforce in 2012 after John Kiriakou, a former agency officer, was convicted of leaking classified information.
At the time Petraeus told CIA employees that “oaths do matter and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate in secrecy.”
In the end DOJ folded. Eric Holder confirmed the Department’s risk aversion mentality with a feeble explanation of his decision to avoid pursuing felony charges. Such a challenge would have been, in his words, “very, very problematic.”
Finally I turn to the Army’s appalling reaction. The plea agreement does not protect Petraeus from military punishment including stripping him of a star. Over the years Generals and Admirals have been reduced in rank for behavior far less serious in nature. But not Petraeus. Not surprisingly the Pentagon’s old boy network recommended that he receive no further punishment.
Everyone agrees that this national election cycle defies history. Pundits and politicians alike are bewildered at Bernie Sanders’ and Donald Trump’s continued success running as “outsiders.” They shouldn’t be. Americans are disgusted with what they see as the same old “Washington two-step” where hypocrisy rules, courage is in short supply and powerful elites game the system.
As for Petraeus – despite his disgraceful behavior he still remains the darling of this city. What a surprise.