President-elect Donald TrumpDonald TrumpPredictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure A review of President Biden's first year on border policy Hannity after Jan. 6 texted McEnany 'no more stolen election talk' in five-point plan for Trump MORE would likely rankle some officials within the FBI by nominating former Gen. David Petraeus to be his secretary of State, former officials said.
It would be the height of irony for Trump to nominate Petraeus to lead the State Department now, after relentlessly attacking former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE for her private email arrangement, these officials added.
The former CIA director, one of several candidates for the position of top diplomat, appeared to have killed his government career when he resigned in disgrace in 2012 and confessed to handing classified material to his biographer, with whom he was having an affair.
“It should and will rankle anyone who is objective and who works with classified info,” said Ellen Glasser, a 24-year FBI veteran who now teaches criminology at the University of North Florida.
“Notwithstanding his past decorated service, serving in the Cabinet is a privilege that should not be afforded to someone whose security clearance was yanked and who could not get another one the normal way,” she added.
According to federal prosecutors, Petraeus intentionally misled investigators during the course of their investigation.
For the FBI, that could be especially stinging.
“One of the issues that many at the FBI would have would be less the classification violations than the alleged lying to the FBI during the investigation,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice.
“It’s the standard that’s imposed on agents,” he said. “Even in the smallest misconduct case, what every agent knows is that the misconduct isn’t going to get you fired; it’s the lack of candor.”
But not all former FBI officials reached by The Hill were as critical of Petraeus, who was incredibly popular in Washington before his downfall.
“His was a significant and concerning lapse that would certainly raise eyebrows from others in the intelligence community,” said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director.
“But now it’s a political decision, so I don’t know that it’s disqualifying because he took a guilty plea and was sentenced,” he added. “The fact that he has done his time and says he’s learned from it, one would hope so and that others have learned from it.”
Still, the prospect of backlash to the potential nomination from law enforcement corners could weigh on Trump, who marketed himself during the campaign as a “law-and-order candidate.”
Last year, Petraeus reached a plea deal with federal officers that saw him agree to one misdemeanor count of removing and retaining classified information. He was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a fine of $100,000 but avoided time in prison.
It’s unclear from the terms of his plea whether he was allowed to maintain his security clearance.
The charges were much lighter than some at the Justice Department — and the FBI, in particular — had hoped. According to The Washington Post, officials considered bringing felony espionage charges against the former CIA head but were ultimately dissuaded.
Court documents show Petraeus removed eight notebooks containing classified information from protected spaces and gave them to Paula Broadwell, who was writing a book about him at the time. Included in the notebooks were details about cover identities of U.S. officers and his conversations with President Obama.
“There’s code word stuff in there,” Petraeus told Broadwell, according to a court filing he signed.
The biographer may yet face disciplinary action from the Army.
Petraeus is one of several people under consideration to be secretary of State, the highest-profile Cabinet slot that Trump has yet to announce. Petraeus is believed to be jockeying for the role with former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerRepublicans, ideology, and demise of the state and local tax deduction Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force MORE (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, among others.
Petraeus’s recent conviction casts a shadow over his prospects. This weekend, he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” to try to put the issue behind him.
“Five years ago, I made a serious mistake. I acknowledged it. I apologized for it. I paid a very heavy price for it, and I’ve learned from it,” Petraeus said.
Trump’s transition team will “have to factor that in and also obviously 38 and a half years of otherwise fairly, in some cases, unique service to our country in uniform and then at the CIA and then some four years or so in the business community,” he added.
Trump’s team does not appear to believe that Petraeus’s crime should bar him from the State Department, despite the real estate mogul’s campaign trail attacks on Clinton’s “disqualifying conduct” when she led State.
“Look, he made mistakes,” Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceManchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials Jan. 6 committee asks Ivanka Trump to sit for interview Pences' pet rabbit, Marlon Bundo, dies MORE said Sunday on the same ABC program. “And he paid the consequences of those mistakes.”
Chad Jenkins, a former FBI special agent, echoed that sentiment.
“From a former FBI standpoint, the way I view it is that he owned up to it. He confessed to his wrongdoing,” said Jenkins, who runs a security consulting firm. “I don’t know that that should continuously hang over his head if he were to be chosen as secretary of State.”
Earlier this year, after the Justice Department declined to press charges over Clinton’s private email setup, Trump compared her situation to Petraeus’s. The Obama administration had done its anointed successor a favor, he claimed, while it left Petraeus out to dry.
“The system is rigged. General Petraeus got in trouble for far less,” the now-president-elect said on Twitter. “Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.”
In an appearance before Congress, FBI Director James Comey refuted that characterization.
Petraeus’s case was “a perfect illustration of the kind of cases that get prosecuted,” Comey testified before the House Oversight Committee.
Jonathan Easley contributed.