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Petraeus Admits to Mishandling Classified Documents

FILE - David Petraeus, former CIA director and four-star Army general, has agreed to plead guilty to mishandling classified information. He's shown at a 2012 Senate hearing with Lieutenant General Ronald Burgess in Washington, D.C.

The former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, retired Army general David Petraeus, has reached a plea agreement with the U.S. Justice Department in connection with the mishandling of classified government material.

The legal move means Petraeus will avoid what could have been an embarrassing trial including details of his affair with an Army Reserve officer that led to his downfall.

Under the plea agreement, Petraeus agreed to plead guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material after sharing materials with biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell, a former Army Reserve officer.

The agreement caps a lengthy period of uncertainty for Petraeus, who resigned as CIA director in November of 2012 after details emerged about his extramarital affair with Broadwell.

“I’m glad that the plea agreement was reached," said Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who worked on Iraq policy at the Defense Department during the administration of President George W. Bush. “It’s important that everyone be accountable to the law no matter who they are and how high they are in the United States national security structure.”

But there were critics of the deal as well. Sam Husseini, with ExposeFacts, an organization that encourages and supports government whistleblowers, said the Petraeus deal was too lenient.

“This administration has gone after more whistle-blowers than all previous administrations combined for leaking information that they don’t like," he said. "But it’s perfectly fine when high officials leak information that the administration apparently does like. That’s not a rule of law. That is a rule of convenience.”

Petraeus became one of the nation’s best known military figures after his service in Iraq where he directed a surge of U.S. forces in 2006 that rolled back gains made by al-Qaida militants who had taken control of several major cities and provinces.

The counter-insurgency strategy championed by Petraeus helped to stabilize Iraq and set the stage for the withdrawal of U.S. forces several years later. Petraeus later led U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Petraeus achieved a certain celebrity in the wake of his success in Iraq, especially in Washington. Some Republicans openly raised the possibility of Petraeus possibly running for president for a time. President Obama appointed him CIA director in September of 2011.

Rubin said General Petraeus and his fall from grace will be seen as a cautionary tale for all future aspiring public figures.

“What ultimately undercut General Petraeus was his own ego," said Rubin. "He was giving classified material to his biographer, perhaps one could even say his hagiographer. It was completely superfluous, it wasn’t necessary and yet he allowed it to happen.”

But Rubin also said Petraeus will be remembered for his role in leading the surge in Iraq and what many regard as a brilliant military career.

“Ultimately I think this scandal is going to be a footnote in history," he said. "What General Petraeus is going to be remembered for first and foremost is going to be the surge. But even before the surge in Iraq, General Petraeus had quite a storied career spanning all sorts of battlefields and this is going to survive what in effect is a minor stumble on the path to greatness.”

The plea agreement carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison. Prosecutors in the case have recommended two years of probation and no prison time, but a federal judge will eventually decide what punishment Petraeus will face.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.