David Petraeus: From military rock star to possible prosecution

David Petraeus, the distinguished US Army general and former CIA director might have been headed for high political office. But an extramarital affair tarnished his reputation, and now federal prosecutors are considering whether to bring criminal charges against him over the handling of classified information.

Cliff Owen/AP
Former CIA Director David Petraeus testifying on Capitol Hill in 2012.

To many, US Army General David Petraeus was a rock star in uniform.

Distinguished West Point grad with a Princeton PhD. The top US military officer in Iraq and then Afghanistan, where he seemed to turn things around in those two unpopular wars, facilitating a US exit. Appointed head of the CIA when he retired to civilian life. Mentioned as a possible presidential or vice-presidential candidate.

But all of that was overshadowed by scandal when he resigned as CIA director in disgrace in 2012, admitting to an extramarital affair he attributed to “extremely poor judgment.”

That important asterisk would always remain part of the four-star general’s biography.

Still, he said in a speech a few months later, “One learns after all that life doesn't stop with such a mistake. It can and must go on."

Now, it seems, there may be more trouble ahead for Petraeus.

According to several news reports, the US Justice Department is considering whether to bring criminal charges against him over the handling of classified information.

Federal investigators have been looking into whether Petraeus improperly shared classified materials with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, the West Point graduate and Army reserve officer with whom he admitted having an affair. FBI agents reportedly found a substantial number of classified documents on Ms. Broadwell's computer and at her home.

According to news reports at the time, Broadwell had become jealous of another woman close to Mr. Petraeus. She sent harassing emails to the other woman, who filed a complaint eventually taken up by the FBI. When agents investigated Broadwell’s email account, they discovered romantic exchanges she had had with Petraeus. Concerned about possible security breaches, agents looked at Petraeus’s personal email account.

There is no reported evidence that intelligence or national security secrets were compromised during the hidden affair. It was via his personal Gmail account – not his secure CIA email – that Petraeus and Broadwell communicated. As a commissioned officer herself, Broadwell had her own security clearance, although she would not have had the “need to know” required for the highest levels of secrecy.

The New York Times reported Friday evening that prosecutors had recommended to US Attorney General Eric Holder that felony charges be brought against Petraeus and that the Attorney General, who plans to leave his position as soon as his successor is confirmed, had been expected to make a decision by the end of last year.

Petraeus has said he never provided classified information to Broadwell, and has indicated to the Justice Department that he has no interest in a plea deal that would spare him an embarrassing trial, the New York Times reported. A lawyer for Petraeus said Friday he had no comment.

Since his resignation from the CIA in Nov. 2012, Petraeus has divided his time between teaching, making lucrative speeches, and working as a partner in one of the world’s largest private-equity firms, according to this report.

Mr. Holder and FBI Director James Comey are frequently quizzed during Capitol Hill appearances about the status of the Petraeus investigation, with some members of Congress critical over the amount of time the investigation has taken.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, (R) of Utah, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday night that he was frustrated by the pace of the investigation and wanted a decision made soon.

"We need clarity one direction or another – either charge and prosecute him or declare his innocence and let him get on with his life," Rep. Chaffetz said. "What's intolerable is to have an American hero in limbo for literally years."

In a letter to the Attorney General last month, Sen. John McCain, (R) of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the country “cannot afford to have this voice silenced or curtailed by the shadow of a long-running, unresolved investigation marked by leaks from anonymous sources.”

“This matter needs to be brought to resolution,” Sen. McCain wrote.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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