Pentagon looking at demoting Petraeus over handling of classified material

The troubles for David Petraeus for sharing classified information with his paramour/biographer may not be over. Despite an Army recommendation that his criminal prosecution suffice as punishment, The Daily Beast reports that Defense Secretary Ash Carter may take further action against the retired four-star general. A retroactive demotion would hit Petraeus in a spot where he’s already taking a beating — his wallet:

The Pentagon is considering retroactively demoting retired Gen. David Petraeusafter he admitted to giving classified information to his biographer and mistress while he was still in uniform, three people with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast.

The decision now rests with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who is said to be willing to consider overruling an earlier recommendation by the Army that Petraeus not have his rank reduced. Such a demotion could cost the storied general hundreds of thousands of dollars—and deal an additional blow to his once-pristine reputation.

“The secretary is considering going in a different direction” from the Army, a defense official told The Daily Beast, because he wants to be consistent in his treatment of senior officers who engage in misconduct and to send a message that even men of Petraeus’s fame and esteemed reputation are not immune to punishment.

That’s a fine lesson. We’ll get back to that in a moment.

Petraeus plea-bargained the case down to a misdemeanor, but it could have been much worse. Under 18 USC 1924, keeping classified information in his possession constitutes a felony; sharing them with unauthorized people is another felony under 18 USC 793. He then lied to investigators, which was yet another felony, before finally admitting to what he’d done. The Department of Justice gave Petraeus the option of pleading out, and he got two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.

That, however, was not the end of the matter. Petraeus lost his access to classified material, which stripped him of his most valuable retirement asset — his experience. He could have made a fortune as a consultant, both within government and the private sector, had he been able to keep his security clearances. In fact, some in Congress wanted them restored in order to allow them to consult with Petraeus on issues such as ISIS. However, as Nancy Youssef and Shane Harris report, last year the FBI apparently found more issues with Petraeus, which prompted the Army’s second recommendation to leave things as they are — which Carter now may override.

Petraeus claims he’s doing well on the speaking circuit and can withstand the financial hit from a demotion. However, there is little doubt that he has already lost a great deal in terms of potential revenue, and the demotion will be one more humiliation for a man whose heroics all but saved the US position in Iraq while crushing al-Qaeda in Iraq, before Barack Obama gave it away and allowed the group to metastasize into ISIS. It won’t break Petraeus, but it will damage him both financially and historically.

That brings us back to the fine lesson that Carter is considering. No one doubts that Petraeus broke the law, and did it for his own benefit. He’s admitted as much and has been held accountable for it, although perhaps not with the same vigor as might have been applied to a more junior and less-famous officer. At the same time, the Secretary of State operated her own secret e-mail server in order to evade legitimate Congressional oversight and FOIA laws, a system that transmitted and retained more than 1300 pieces of classified information, including Top Secret/Compartmented intel.

Are people of Hillary Clinton’s “fame and esteemed reputation” immune to punishment? Perhaps Ash Carter might want to provide Loretta Lynch with a lesson on ethics and accountability before taking a second bite out of David Petraeus — or maybe, just maybe, that’s Carter’s point.

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