RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Former CIA Director David Petraeus, whose once-bright political future was all but destroyed over an affair with his biographer, has agreed to plead guilty to charges he shared classified material with her for her book.
The plea agreement, which carries a possible sentence of up to a year in prison, represents another blow to the reputation of the retired four-star Army general who led American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and was perhaps the most admired military leader of his generation.
Petraeus, 62, agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material. The agreement was filed in federal court Tuesday in Charlotte, where Paula Broadwell, the general’s biographer and former mistress, lives with her husband and children.
In court papers, prosecutors recommended two years of probation and a $40,000 fine. But the judge who hears the plea is not bound by that and could still impose a prison sentence. No immediate date was set for a court hearing for Petraeus to enter the plea.
As part of the deal, Petraeus agreed not to contest the detailed set of facts laid out by the government to underpin their case against him.
Prosecutors say that while Broadwell was writing her book in 2011, Petraeus gave her eight binders of classified material he had improperly kept from his time as the top military commander in Afghanistan. Days later, he took the binders back to his house.
Among the secret information contained in the “black books” were the names of covert operatives, the coalition war strategy and notes about Petraeus’ discussions with President Barack Obama and the National Security Council, prosecutors said.
Those binders were later seized by the FBI in a search of Petraeus’ Arlington, Virginia, home, where he had kept them in the unlocked drawer of a desk in a ground-floor study.
Prosecutors said that after resigning from the CIA, Petraeus signed a form falsely attesting he had no classified material. He also lied to FBI agents in denying he supplied the information to Broadwell, according to court documents.
Petraeus’ lawyers, David Kendall and Robert Barnett in Washington, declined to comment. A telephone message left for Broadwell was not immediately returned. Her lawyer, Robert Muse of Washington, said he had no comment.
Petraeus admitted having an affair with Broadwell when he resigned as CIA director in November 2012. Both have publicly apologized and said their romantic relationship began only after he had retired from the military.
Broadwell’s admiring biography of him, “All In: The Education of David Petraeus,” came out in 2012, before the affair was exposed.
He held the CIA post less than a year, not long enough to leave a significant mark on the spy agency. The core of his identity has been a military man.
A Ph.D. with a reputation as a thoughtful strategist, Petraeus was brought in by President George W. Bush to command multinational forces in Iraq in 2007, a period when the war began to turn in favor of the U.S., though recent events have proven how ephemeral that was.
His command coincided with the “surge” of American forces in Iraq and a plan to pay Sunni militias to fight al-Qaida in Iraq.
Petraeus, who wrote the Army manual on counterinsurgency, was then promoted to commander of U.S. Central Command, which has authority over the Middle East. When Gen. Stanley McChrystal was fired in 2010 by Obama as commander in Afghanistan after his staff made impolitic remarks to a Rolling Stone reporter, Petraeus was brought in to replace him.
Since his resignation as CIA director, Petraeus has slowly taken steps to re-enter public life – hitting the speaking circuit, becoming a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and taking a position at a private equity firm.
If he manages to avoid prison, Petraeus’ plea deal will result in far more lenient punishment than that meted out to others convicted of leaking classified information.
In 2012, former CIA officer John Kiriakou pleaded guilty to one count of intentionally disclosing the identity of a covert agent to a reporter and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
Then the CIA director, Petraeus hailed the conviction as a victory for the agency.
“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 with the requisite degree of secrecy,” Petraeus said at the time.
David Deitch, a former federal prosecutor who handled counterterrorism and national security issues, said those deciding Petraeus’ fate likely weighed his decades of service to the nation when considering his punishment. A public trial involving classified material might also potentially reveal information the government would rather keep secret.
“What is achieved by sending David Petraeus to jail?” asked Deitch, now in private practice with a Washington firm. “What will be achieved in terms of deterrence, in terms of punishment, in terms of rehabilitation? The conclusion is ‘Probably not much.'”
Deitch compared the Petraeus case to that against former CIA Director John Deutch, who was negotiating a plea agreement with prosecutors on charges stemming from mishandling classified material when he was granted a pardon by President Clinton.
After Petraeus’ impending guilty plea was announced Tuesday, longtime supporter Sen. John McCain said it is time to consider the issues raised by the ex-general’s extramarital affair closed.
“At a time of grave security challenges around the world, I hope that Gen. Petraeus will continue to provide his outstanding service and leadership to our nation, as he has throughout his distinguished career,” the Arizona Republican said.
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