The Cable

Petraeus To Escape Further Punishment

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has decided not to take a star away from the storied retired general charged with mishandling classified material.


David Petraeus, the former top U.S. general in Iraq and Afghanistan and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, won’t lose a star or face any further disciplinary action from the Pentagon stemming from his disclosure of classified information.

The decision puts to rest frenzied speculation over the post-retirement future of Petraeus, one of the most storied of American military leaders whose record as a counter-insurgency genius was overshadowed by ethical lapses and a lengthy federal investigation at the end of his career.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has decided not to impose any additional punishment on Petraeus, the Washington Post and other media outlets reported late Saturday. That decision follows the recommendation of top Army leadership issued late last year. Carter had been mulling a possible demotion for the tarnished icon, who left the Army as a four-star general in 2011, but who later lied to the FBI about sharing classified information with his lover and biographer, Paula Broadwell, while he ran the CIA.

Petraeus resigned from his position as CIA director in late 2012, a little over a year after taking charge. He had allowed Broadwell access to a series of notebooks the general kept while in Afghanistan that contained classified information including war plans and code names. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to lying to the FBI and received two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine.

Petraeus’s fate posed a sharp dilemma for Carter. Top brass were reluctant to see the decorated war hero demoted, especially since none of the classified information Petraeus shared with his biographer made it into print. Sen. John McCain, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, also urged the Pentagon not to slap Petraeus with additional punishment. But lower-ranking officers found guilty of mishandling classified information have faced stiffer punishments, raising questions among the rank-and-file about a double standard for powerful figures.

Petraeus’s future has also indirectly cast a shadow over the presidential race, which kicks off officially in Iowa Monday night. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is fighting for the Democratic nomination, is facing continued questions over her own handling of classified and top-secret information. On Friday, the State Department acknowledged that top-secret emails were found on the personal email server that Clinton kept at her home while serving as secretary of state.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent challenging Clinton for the Democratic nomination, on Sunday called the email imbroglio a “very serious issue.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, fighting to grab the Republican nomination, told a radio audience that Clinton’s mishandling of classified information was more serious than Petraeus’s and could complicate her race for the White House.

Photo credit: JOHN W. ADKISSON/Getty

Keith Johnson is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @KFJ_FP

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