As reported earlier today, in what may be a tiebreaker option for Secretary of State in Trump’s administration with both Romney and Giuliani seemingly unable to get enough internal support to make it over the hurdle, the president elect met with David Petraeus, a former U.S. military commander in Iraq whose sharing of classified information with his biographer mistress, led to his resignation as CIA chief in 2012, to evaluate him for the top diplomatic position in the US government.
Petraeus said after meeting Trump that the New York businessman “basically walked us around the world” in their discussion. “He showed a great grasp of the variety of challenges that are out there and some of the opportunities as well,” Petraeus told reporters.
Trump’s initial response appeared favorable: “Just met with General Petraeus–was very impressed!” Trump tweeted shortly after the meeting which lasted one hour at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
Just met with General Petraeus–was very impressed!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 28, 2016
After he resigned from the CIA in November 2012, he avoided a criminal trial by agreeing to a plea deal in April 2015. It required him to serve two years on probation and pay a $100,000 fine on a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized possession of classified information. While that may create the unusual prospect of a cabinet secretary who could still be on criminal probation for his first months in office, Trump said during the presidential campaign that Petraeus’s violations paled compared to those of Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who shared classified information on a private e-mail server.
So will Petraeus’ past come back to haunt him?
According to a reports by Reuters, the answer may, surprisingly, be no: “Petraeus’ past mishandling of classified documents is unlikely to be an obstacle to Trump offering him a top government post, said a source who has advised the transition team on national security. That is despite Trump harshly criticizing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton during the election campaign for using a private email server while she was secretary of state.”
“Other lives, including General Petraeus and many others, have been destroyed for doing far, far less,” Trump said at a rally in October. “This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue.”
However, as Bloomberg notes, FBI’s notorious director James Comey, who oversaw both the Petraeus and Clinton investigations, disagreed. In a July 7 hearing, he told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that Petraeus’s behavior was worse than Clinton’s, saying that he deliberately “lied” when first questioned by investigators. Regarding Hillary, Comey has said there was no evidence that Clinton or her aides had intended to break the law through careless handling of sensitive information. Federal prosecutors said Petraeus knew black binders he shared with Broadwell contained classified information, but he nonetheless provided them.
“So you have obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information” that was highly classified, Comey said. “He admitted he knew that was the wrong thing to do. That is a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted.”
The issue could be an impediment for Petraeus in a confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee, according to Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a libertarian who is opposed to most U.S. intervention abroad. “The problem they are going to have if they put him forward is there are a lot of similarities to Hillary Clinton,” Paul said Monday on CNN.
Now add one more: according to a report by AP this afternoon, the Defense Department has launched a leaks investigation related to the sex scandal that led to the resignation of former CIA Director David Petraeus. A U.S. official told the AP that investigators are trying to determine who leaked personal information about Paula Broadwell, the woman whose affair with Petraeus led to criminal charges against him and his resignation. AP adds that the information concerned the status of Broadwell’s security clearance.
Disclosure of the Broadwell information without official permission would have been a violation of federal criminal law.
The latest twist in this case – oddly similar to the reopening of the FBI probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server – will likely complicate Petraeus’ prospects of obtaining a Cabinet position in the Trump administration, resurfacing details of the extramarital affair and FBI investigation that ended his career at the CIA and tarnished the reputation of the retired four-star general.
Of course, in Hillary’s case, the FBI quickly closed its reopened probe into her email just over a week after it was reopened after her emails mysteriously emerged on the notebook computer of Anthony Weiner’s computer. For the Petraeus case to be a carbon copy, any renewed probe into his conduct would similarly have to be closed in a matter of days. We doubt that will happen, which is why as of this moment, absent a material change, it is likely safe to say that the former general can be counted out from the running for the Secretary of State position under the Trump administration.
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