Trump gives Petraeus a pass – Politico
Donald Trump said Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server for classified State Department emails made her unfit for high office. But that isn’t stopping him from considering David Petraeus, who pled guilty to knowingly leaking secret government files — and lying to the feds about it — for secretary of state.
Trump’s hourlong meeting Monday with Petraeus, a retired general and former CIA director, to discuss the Cabinet position is the latest in the president-elect’s outreach to retired military leaders who have clashed with President Barack Obama on foreign policy and national security.
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But it also calls into question the sincerity of Trump’s stance on the importance of safeguarding the nation’s secrets, according to former government officials and intelligence experts — a stance that was driven home with campaign trail chants of “lock her up.”
“The very consideration of Petraeus for a senior position reveals that the Trump campaign’s rhetoric regarding Hillary Clinton was totally bogus,” said Steven Aftergood, a specialist on government classification at the Federation of American Scientists. “Candidate Trump was generating hysteria over Clinton’s handling or mishandling of classified information that he likely never believed or took seriously himself.
“Petraeus admitted lying to the FBI, which distinguished his case from Clinton’s and made his case a good deal worse,” Aftergood added. “I think once again President-elect Trump is revealed as a rather hypocritical figure.”
Petraeus’ stint as head of the CIA came to ignominious end in 2012 when it was discovered he was having an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer, and had shared reams of classified information with her. He pled guilty to misdemeanor charges and was sentenced to two years of probation and forced to pay a $40,000 fine. Investigators also claimed that Petraeus separately shared classified information with journalists.
It is likely to be a major point of contention if he is nominated and faces confirmation by the Senate, where he has significant supporters but there is already some angst about having to grapple with his law-breaking.
A former senior intelligence official who was once Petraeus’ boss said he would not hire Petraeus for the top diplomatic post for several reasons, including that his professional experience has mostly been limited to military operations in the Middle East.
However, his leaking of classified information seems an obvious disqualifier, said the former spy, who spoke only on condition he not be identified.
“The fact someone who acknowledged committing that would even be considered is surprising to me,” he said. “Especially since Trump made that such a part of his campaign against Clinton. It is asking for trouble. [Petraeus] left the CIA in disgrace.”
Trump himself frequently used the retired general’s case to assert that Clinton was getting preferential treatment.
“Other lives, including Gen. Petraeus and many others, have been destroyed for doing far, far less,” Trump said at a rally in October of Clinton’s email troubles. “This is a conspiracy against you, the American people, and we cannot let this happen or continue.”
Trump also singled out retired Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who recently pled guilty to lying to the FBI about allegations he shared classified information with the news media on a highly classified program to disrupt Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
But while the FBI concluded Clinton was reckless in her decision to use a private computer for government business, her actions were not deemed serious enough to warrant prosecution.
Conversely, the bureau concluded what Petraeus did was far more significant.
“So you have obstruction of justice, you have intentional misconduct and a vast quantity of information,” FBI Director James Comey told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee of Petraeus’ actions. “He admitted he knew that was the wrong thing to do. That is a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted.”
Others said the mere fact that Petraeus is on Trump’s short list for such a position of authority demonstrates how valuable he is.
Petraeus is considered one of the most accomplished battlefield commanders of his generation, a thinking general with a Ph.D. who helped orchestrate the counterinsurgency strategy that reduced some of the worst violence in Iraq and who was tapped by Obama to run the war in Afghanistan before being elevated to run the CIA in 2011.
He also has powerful friends on Capitol Hill, including Republican Sen. John McCain, the Armed Services chairman. It was before McCain’s committee last September that Petraeus made his first appearance before Congress after his departure from the CIA.
“I made a serious mistake, one that brought discredit on me, and pain closest — to those closest to me,” Petraeus said. “It was a violation of the trust placed in me and a breach of the values to which I had been committed throughout my life. There’s nothing I can do to undo what I did. I can only say again how sorry I am to let — to those I let down, and then strive to go forward with a greater sense of humility and purpose, and with gratitude to those who stood with me during a very difficult chapter in my life.”
“In light of all that, it means a great deal that you have asked me to share my views on the challenges in the Middle East, where, as you noted, I spent most of my last decade in government,” he added. “I thank you for that, Mr. Chairman. And I thank you for the support and friendship that you have long extended to me.”
Despite the black mark on an otherwise stellar career, Petraeus’ advice remains highly sought after. For example, he was back at the White House in April, according to the public logs, to meet with the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Some of Petraeus’ former colleagues believe his transgressions should be overlooked as Trump seeks to build his national security team.
“Gen. Petraeus’ service to his country was cut short by mistakes he made and acknowledged,” Mike Morell, who served as his deputy at CIA, told POLITICO. “The nation would be lucky if he were able to serve again. The general is a man of deep talent and experience.”
Others aren’t so sure.
“I think it’s a difficult case because his virtues are so unusual and the misdeed is so significant,” Richard Danzig, a former Navy secretary who also still holds a security clearance, said in an interview. “I think it is a comment on his extraordinary virtues that he would would be considered even in the case of the flaw. It is a decision Trump will have to make.”
Some on Capitol Hill also expressed deep reservations on Monday.
“Hillary does it — ‘lock her up.’ Gen Petraeus does it — CABINET POST! No.” Doug Stafford, Sen. Rand Paul’s chief strategist, wrote on Twitter on Monday.
Those who know and admire Petraeus say there is also something else driving his candidacy: Ever since his scandal he has been fiercely plotting how to write a new chapter of his public career.
“David is the guy who has always raised his hand,” said the former senior intelligence official. “His a very ambitious guy.”
After their meeting at Trump Tower in New York on Monday, Trump praised Petraeus on Twitter. “Just met with General Petraeus — was very impressed!” he wrote.
Not to be outdone, Petraeus briefly stopped to talk to reporters, saying that in their meeting Trump demonstrated an impressive understanding of world affairs.
“He basically walked us around the world,” Petraeus said of Trump. “Showed a great grasp of a variety of the challenges that are out there and some of the opportunities as well. Very good conversation and we’ll see where it goes from here. We’ll see where it goes from here.”
Trump is reportedly also considering former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for secretary of state. Trump is due to meet with Romney to dicuss the job on Tuesday, along with Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
But in Trump’s own estimation, Petraeus deserves another chance at the highest rungs.
When Petraeus quit the CIA, Trump told ExtraTV, an entertainment news outlet, that the general “was really beyond reproach, there was nobody like him. And now he showed certain frailties, certain weaknesses. It can never be the same, but certainly he can make a comeback.”