Petraeus has denied passing the documents to Broadwell, and she backs that assertion. Whether Petraeus is guilty or innocent, this leak is as unfair to him as it is predictable. Prosecutors have long leaked like this whenever they can’t make a case against a suspect and hope that a newspaper story will panic him into a plea bargain. The identity of the leakers—and their motivations for leaking—are almost as good a news story as the decision to prosecute. It seems unlikely that Attorney General Eric Holder, who will be leaving the office as soon as his replacement, Loretta Lynch, is confirmed, was behind the leak. Better to speculate that the prosecutors who have been working on the Petraeus case for two years, but don’t really have a case, took the initiative, hoping to score a last scalp as the Holder era fades and their team disbands. Or the leakers could be sending a message to Lynch, saying, “Hey, we’ve got a hot case for you over here.”

Now, there’s plenty of irony wrapped up in the idea of a suspected leaker’s reputation being destroyed by leaks, but that’s not the main reason we should care about this case.

Perhaps, instead, I can stir your conscience by asking if the case should have been brought in the first place? Government officials leak classified information day in and day out, sometimes as “whistle-blowers,” sometimes to float a policy balloon, sometimes to undermine their bureaucratic opponents, sometimes by mistake, and sometimes (I’m only guessing here) to placate the mistress who is writing an adulatory biography. Upwards of 1.4 million people hold “top secret” clearances, and the secrecy machine creates tens of millions of new classified documents each year. That sort of profligacy makes a mockery of the government’s definition of “top secret” as information that “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security”?