Former CIA director and retired Gen. David Petraeus is pleading guilty to mishandling classified information, apparently avoiding an embarrassing trial that would have included his affair with Paula Broadwell, according to documents filed in Charlotte on Tuesday.
The new documents do not address whether Charlotte resident Broadwell will face charges.
The investigation into Petraeus centered on whether the now-retired four-star general gave classified information to Broadwell while they worked on a Petraeus’ biography.
According to a bill of information filed in federal court by U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins, Petraeus will plead guilty to breaking the law – one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.
The plea deal, which Petraeus signed on Feb. 22, says that the government has agreed to recommend no prison time, and is proposing a sentence of two years probation and a $40,000 fine. A judge will make the final sentencing decision.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, D.C., said the punishment of Petraeus seemed “appropriate” but inconsistent with punishments handed down to lower government officials charged with similar crimes.
“It’s hard to reconcile cases like that, and it leads to the conclusion that senior officials are held to a different and more forgiving standard than others,” he said.
Mark Zaid, a Washington-based attorney who specializes in national security issues, described Petraeus’ punishment, as it now stands, as “a sweetheart deal.”
“I’ve got clients being prosecuted for the same things with more severe sentences. They are absolutely getting jail time,” he said. “It’s frustrating to see someone at this high a level essentially getting off light when the little people seem to have their lives completely ruined.”
From top leader to criminal
Petraeus was considered one of the most revered military leaders of modern times and was viewed by some as a possible future candidate for president or vice president.
Now he will have a criminal record. His sentencing hearing in Charlotte has not been scheduled. Jacob Sussman, who will serve as Petraeus’ local attorney, declined comment Tuesday afternoon. No explanation was given for why the case was filed in Charlotte instead of in Washington, D.C.
Asked about the new filings and whether he had discussed any agreement about possible charges against Broadwell, her attorney Robert Muse said neither he nor his client would comment.
On Tuesday morning in Charlotte, the blinds were drawn and no one answered the door at the Dilworth home that Broadwell shares with her radiologist husband and children.
The affair between the two became public in 2012. Petraeus resigned as director of the CIA within days.
Tuesday’s filings provide new details into the information Petraeus shared with Broadwell, who is referred to in the documents only as the former general’s “biographer.”
As military commander in Afghanistan, Petraeus compiled eight “black books,” which contained his daily schedule and classified and unclassified notes he kept during meetings and briefings, the court documents say.
Codes, war strategy in books
The books included “national defense information,” codes and other data, the court documents say, including, “the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities … diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings.”
The court documents also describe a conversation recorded by Broadwell in 2011 in which the general acknowledged that the black books “were highly classified” and contained “code word” information.
Yet Petraeus agreed to share the books with Broadwell, the court documents say. On Aug. 28, 2011, he left the books at a private residence in Washington, D.C., where Broadwell was staying. At least four days passed before he retrieved them.
According to the documents, no classified information appeared in Broadwell’s 2012 biography, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.”
After details of the affair led Petraeus to resign as CIA director on Nov. 9, 2012, the former general lied to investigators about whether he still possessed classified information by not revealing the black books, the documents say. He also told investigators that he had never provided classified information to Broadwell, the documents say.
On April 5, 2013, FBI agents discovered and seized the black books in a raid on Petraeus’ home.
The case against Petraeus began when Jill Kelley of Tampa, Fla., complained to the FBI in 2012 that she had received anonymous emailed threats about her relationship with the general, who was described as a family friend.
The FBI traced the threats back to Broadwell. Further searches of her email revealed her relationship with Petraeus.
Broadwell was not charged after an FBI investigation into the alleged cyberstalking, although Kelley has sued the federal government over invasion of her privacy.
Broadwell’s computer seized
During the investigation, the FBI discovered classified documents on Broadwell’s computer, which was seized from her Charlotte home along with other items. As a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, Broadwell had a security clearance at the time.
Since his resignation, both Petraeus and Broadwell have attempted to go on with their public lives. The former general has been teaching, making paid speeches and working as a partner in private equity firm.
Broadwell has made a number of appearances around the city promoting healthy living and speaking on leadership. She has also become an advocate for better treatment of returning soldiers and wounded veterans.
But she has refused multiple media requests for interviews about the Petraeus case.
Just before Memorial Day 2013, Broadwell made a brief comment to WSOC-TV saying that she had “remorse for the harm, sadness that this (Petraeus affair) has caused in my family and other families and for causes that we belong to.” Observer reporter Elizabeth Leland contributed.
Talking about the ‘black books’
Court documents describe this conversation Broadwell recorded on Aug. 4, 2011:
Broadwell: “By the way, where are your black books? We never went through ...”
Petraeus: “They’re in a rucksack up there somewhere.”
Broadwell: “OK … You avoiding that? You gonna look through ’em first?”
Petraeus: “Umm, well, they’re really – I mean they are highly classified, some of them. They don’t have it on it, but I mean there’s code word stuff in there.”