Retired Gen. David Petraeus admitted he made a “very serious mistake” in sharing classified information with his biographer when he was CIA director, adding that it would be up to the Senate to decide whether it should confirm or disqualify him should President-elect Donald Trump nominate him to be secretary of state.
“Five years ago I made a very serious mistake,” Petraeus said in an interview with ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday. “I acknowledged it. I apologized for it. I paid a very heavy price for it. And I’ve learned from it.”
Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge in April 2015 for mishandling classified information, receiving two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine. Court documents in the case show that he turned over a black book of highly classified “code word” documents — including the identity of covert officers and notes of National Security Council meetings — to Paula Broadwell, a biographer with whom he was having an affair.
His interview with “This Week” came the same day Yahoo News published an interview with Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor turned fugitive whistleblower, who said Petraeus disclosed “information that was far more highly classified than I ever did” and yet never “spent a single day in jail.”
“We have a two-tiered system of justice in the United States,” Snowden told Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric in Moscow, “where people who are either well connected to government or they have access to an incredible amount of resources get very light punishments.”
In 2013, Snowden was charged with multiple felonies for theft of government property and violations of the Espionage Act after leaking tens of thousands of classified documents that exposed the U.S. government’s mass surveillance programs.
Petraeus pointed out that none of the classified information he disclosed to Broadwell was ever made public.
“Nothing that was in my journals that I shared — certainly improperly — ended up in the biography or made it out to the public,” he told Stephanopoulos. “I think that’s a fairly significant point.”
Before the interview, Politico reported that Team Trump planned to “closely review” Petraeus’ appearance on “This Week” to “see how he handles questions about his past that are bogging down his prospects for nomination and could prevent his confirmation.”
If Trump were to pick Petraeus, it would come with a deeply ironic twist: During the campaign, Trump railed at Hillary Clinton for mishandling sensitive material while serving as secretary of state.
Another issue potentially weighing down Petraeus is his probation. According to one condition of a plea agreement, it appears Petraeus would need to get permission from a probation officer to leave North Carolina to fulfill his duties as secretary of state.
“The defendant shall notify the probation officer within 72 hours of any change in residence or employment,” read a court judgment, which was shared on Twitter by USA Today reporter Brad Heath. “The defendant shall not leave the Western District of North Carolina without the permission of the Court or probation officer. Travel allowed for work as approved by U.S. probation office.”
A probation officer would have the right to search Petraeus’ personal and office computers without a warrant.
“The defendant shall submit his person, residence, office, vehicle and/or any computer system including computer data storage media, or any electronic device capable of storing, retrieving, and/or accessing data to which they have access or control, to a search, from time to time, conducted by any U.S. Probation Officer and such other law enforcement personnel as the probation officer may deem advisable, without a warrant,” the document read.
This has led some political analysts to suggest Trump would have to pardon Petraeus before any confirmation hearings could begin.
“There would be several problems with his confirmation,” Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano said last week. “At the time of his guilty plea, he admitted to taking federal government property. That would bar him from holding a federal office.”
Trump is said to be considering at least four other candidates for secretary of state: former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee and former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said Sunday that the secretary of state search has “broadened” beyond those finalists, but declined to offer additional names.
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) December 4, 2016
Petraeus acknowledged Sunday that he may be unique among the crop of candidates for secretary in that he didn’t vote for Trump.
“I don’t vote,” Petraeus said. “I also did not support him nor did I oppose him, nor did I support or oppose any other candidate. I’ve truly tried to be apolitical.”