Obama pardons James Cartwright in leak case
President Obama on Tuesday pardoned retired Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused of lying to the FBI about his conversations with reporters regarding U.S. efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.
Cartwright pleaded guilty in October to one felony count of making false statements during the FBI’s investigation into leaks about the government’s role in a highly classified operation known as Operation Olympic Games.
The clandestine effort — untaken with Israel — deployed a computer virus known as Stuxnet that destroyed Iranian centrifuges used in creating nuclear fuel.
New York Times journalist David Sanger exposed the operation in 2012, sparking the federal investigation that led to Cartwright.
According to the government’s sentencing memo, when investigators interviewed Cartwright about Sanger’s reporting in November 2013, he lied about his discussions with Sanger and Daniel Klaidman, who wrote a Newsweek article focused cyberattacks against Iran.
Agents then showed Cartwright an email exchange that contradicted his statements, according to the memo. Cartwright immediately became ashen, the report stated, and lost consciousness.
“After reading the email exchange, Cartwright stated the email contradicted his previous statements concerning not engaging with Klaidman on matters pertaining to [redacted],” the memo reads.
“Cartwright explained that he did not recall Klaidman asking about the matter, but then stated, ‘I think I divulged classified information.’ He additionally took off his glasses, started rubbing his eyes, and told interviewing agents, ‘You got me,’ when confronted with his contradicting statements.”
Shown a message from Sanger, “Cartwright read through the email and scanned the document with his finger. Cartwright was shaking, losing color in his face, and clearing his throat. Cartwright attempted to explain the email; however, his speech became slurred and he subsequently slumped over in this chair and lost consciousness.”
Cartwright was admitted to the hospital. When the interview resumed three days later, he admitted to disclosing classified information with the two journalists.
Attorneys for Cartwright have argued that he agreed to meet with the journalists in order to mitigate damage from a leak of classified information they already had in their possession.
Sanger himself has characterized the former general as concerned with protecting the interests of the United States — and numerous officials have pleaded for leniency for Cartwright in light of his long career of public service.
“Far from harming U.S. interests, his interview contributed to my efforts to provide the public with a comprehensive account of a critical new element of the American use of force, while trying to avoid harming future operations,” Sanger wrote in a letter included in a sentencing memorandum filed by Cartwright’s attorneys.
“I have no doubt he was trying to act in the best interests of the United States.”
But prosecutors have noted that Cartwright did not put forth that explanation in his original 2013 interview with the FBI.
Federal prosecutors had asked a judge to sentence Cartwright to two years in prison — a penalty significantly harsher than the normal sentencing guidelines. They argued that the case should be treated as a leak and that a two-year sentence would act as a deterrent to future wrongdoers.
Sentencing was formerly set for the end of this month.
Cartwright is one of 64 people pardoned Tuesday by Obama. He also granted 209 commutations, including in the high-profile case of Chelsea Manning.
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