Constantly ranting against the woman he smeared as “Crooked Hillary,” Donald Trump insisted that her alleged disclosures of classified information — although unintentional, harmless, and ultimately deemed innocent — were serious felonies for which she ought to be sent to prison. “Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before,” he sputtered. “We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.”
But now Trump evidently believes that David Petraeus — who pled guilty to charges that he intentionally revealed classified information to his mistress — could be trusted to assume the highest position in the Pentagon or perhaps the State Department, according to news outlets. The retired general, who commanded US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan before serving as CIA director under President Obama, reportedly came very close to a felony conviction that would have sent him to prison for leaking top secrets.
FBI investigators and Justice Department prosecutors wanted to indict Petraeus, and he only escaped that humiliating fate through a plea bargain — a deal achieved, ironically enough, by David Kendall, the same Washington attorney who represented Hillary Clinton.
When Obama accepted Petraeus’ resignation from the CIA four years ago, the ostensible reason was the exposure of an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell. But a lengthy FBI investigation revealed that he had leaked classified documents to her, which were found on her computer, and that he had also given her access to his CIA email account. The matter never went to trial, so the Justice Department presented no evidence concerning the nature of those documents or the damage their disclosure might have inflicted on US national security.
Trump and other Republicans have wrongly compared Clinton’s alleged offenses with those confessed by Petraeus, claiming that he was treated unfairly while she escaped punishment. But the differences are enormous, and point in Clinton’s favor. Unlike her case, there was no question that Petraeus knew the leaked documents were classified — nor that he gave them intentionally to his mistress, who lacked any security clearance. And Petraeus lied to FBI investigators to cover up his actions, as he later admitted.
Last year, the New York Times reported that career prosecutors and FBI officials were angry because Petraeus was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and avoid trial, although lower-level officials whose offenses were less egregious faced much harsher treatment. In the end, he was sentenced to probation and a large fine.
So while Trump has insisted all year that he wants to lock up Hillary Clinton — who did nothing that remotely resembles the egregious conduct of Petraeus — he now is considering whether to appoint Petraeus to one of the most sensitive jobs in government. It is not at all clear, as The Intercept observed, that the former CIA chief could even qualify for the security clearances required to occupy a cabinet post.
To float Petraeus’ name for such a position represents a new peak of hypocrisy, even for Donald Trump. It is a kind of achievement, perhaps the only kind we can expect from him. Nobody should be surprised if the Senate Republicans who would have to confirm Petraeus go along with this charade, despite their own fervent denunciations of Clinton. They are all capable of the same bogus indignation as their new president-elect.
That doesn’t mean Petraeus wouldn’t face any problems with his fellow Republicans. Just last summer, the former general joined with former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Gabby Giffords, and a group of veterans from all service branches to form a new organization called Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, which advocates stronger gun laws. Mishandling classified documents is apparently no big deal, unless your name happens to be Clinton. But sane views on gun control are sure to provoke real outrage.