Republicans: Punish Hillary, not Petraeus

Republicans: Punish Hillary, not Petraeus
© Getty

Republican presidential candidates are bashing the possible demotion of Gen. David Petraeus for his handling of classified information, arguing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax hit by earlier hack | What to know about Kaspersky controversy | Officials review EU-US privacy pact Overnight Tech: Equifax hit by earlier undisclosed hack | Facebook takes heat over Russian ads | Alt-right Twitter rival may lose domain MORE is far more deserving of punishment.

"I think that she frankly is far more guilty than Petraeus and all these other people who have had their lives destroyed," Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE said on CNN Wednesday.

Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea GOP state lawmakers meet to plan possible constitutional convention MORE (R-Texas) pointed to a recent claim by the Intelligence Community's inspector general that Clinton had highly classified information known as "special access programs" on her private server. 

"That is a very, very serious allegation. And I would note, Gen. Petraeus was criminally prosecuted. Right now, the Obama Pentagon is trying to strip him of one of his stars for doing what appears on the face to be much, much less than Hillary Clinton did," Cruz said on Fox News Wednesday.  

Clinton has faced nagging questions throughout her presidential run about her use of private email server during her tenure as secretary of State. 

More than 1,300 emails released by the State Department that were on Clinton's server have been classified, though officials insist none were marked classified when the emails were sent. 

The FBI is investigating Clinton’s server for possible mishandling of classified information.

Petraeus was convicted last April after he gave notebooks containing some classified information to his biographer, Paula Broadwell, an Army intelligence officer with whom Petraeus had an extramarital affair.  

Some of the information included notes from national security meetings and other classified material. 

Petraeus struck a plea deal that allowed him to escape jail time. He was fined $100,000 and sentenced two years of probation. The information was never released to the public or published in the biography.  

The violation occurred before he retired from the Army in 2011 to become CIA director. Petraeus stepped down from that position in November 2012 after the affair with Broadwell came to light.

Despite the conviction, Petraeus, who is credited with turning the tide in the Iraq War and served as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, remains a popular figure in Washington and on Capitol Hill. 

He testified earlier this month in front of the House Benghazi committee. As he exited the hearing, which was closed to the public, he told The Hill that he enjoyed being back on Capitol Hill.  

When Petraeus testified on U.S. Middle East policy in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee last year for the first time since he resigned as CIA director, he began his testimony with an apology — something that was well-received by Republicans and Democrats on the committee alike.  

Senators on Thursday demurred on whether a parallel should be drawn between Petraeus and Clinton, but they said they strongly opposed demoting Petraeus. 

Some Republican senators said Carter's decision appeared politically motivated.

"For us to go back and to demote somewhat by all accounts who served our nation with great heroism and dedication and has done so much for this nation, to me, it reeks of politics," added Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteStale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Trump voter fraud commission sets first meeting outside DC RNC chair warns: Republicans who refused to back Trump offer 'cautionary tale' MORE (R-N.H.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

Asked whether Clinton should also face punishment for having classified material on her server, Ayotte said the matter was still being investigated. 

"We know that the FBI is investigating this matter, and I would hope that whatever the outcome of the investigation, that of course, our laws are enforced even-handedly and fairly regardless of someone's political position," she said. 

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainSenate's defense authorization would set cyber doctrine Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-Ariz.) said in a statement Wednesday that "the unusual circumstances surrounding this [Petraeus] review raise serious questions about the motivations behind it."  

"I think it would be wrong to do this to Gen. Petraeus. I think he has taken responsibility for his misdeeds, I think his military record is one of the greatest in the history of the country, and I would absolutely oppose an effort to demote him," said Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTop Louisiana health official rips Cassidy over ObamaCare repeal bill Senate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions MORE (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and former 2016 presidential candidate.  

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedOvernight Defense: Senate passes 0B defense bill | 3,000 US troops heading to Afghanistan | Two more Navy officials fired over ship collisions Senate passes 0B defense bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the committee, agreed that a demotion is unnecessary.

"He apologized, and his service to the nation has been overall, I think, extraordinary, so this issue has been resolved in my mind," said Reed, who co-authored a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter with McCain in support of Petraeus.  

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichLive coverage: Sanders rolls out single-payer bill Where Dems stand on Sanders's single-payer bill Trade agency should listen to Congress on solar case MORE (D-N.M.), another Democrat on the committee, said he did not want to jump to an off-the-cuff conclusion but said Petraeus's violation "was a serious issue" and a "very black mark." 

A spokesman for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) had no comment on the matter when contacted by The Hill. 

The Petraeus review also risks sowing division in the Obama administration. Eric Fanning, President Obama's pick for Army Secretary, suggested Thursday he did not agree with the possible demotion.  

He said as former Army undersecretary, he had agreed with his then boss and Army Secretary John McHugh that "no further action was necessary regarding Gen. Petraeus."

Graham called that a "great answer" and urged Carter to follow his recommendation. 

"He made a mistake, he took responsibility for it, and his military record, I think, stands as one of the greatest in recent memory," Graham said.  

A senior defense official said any pending decision on Petraeus is premature.  

Carter has not yet reviewed the case at all and any suggestion he has decided to do anything "is off the mark," the official said. 

Rebecca Kheel contributed.