Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, a top U.S. military commander of the past decade and the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, agreed to plead guilty to leaking classified intelligence to his onetime mistress.
Petraeus, who commanded American and coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, on Tuesday agreed to plead guilty in U.S. District Court in North Carolina to one count of unauthorized removal of classified material and retention of classified material. The charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
Petraeus was accused of sharing classified information with his onetime lover, Paula Broadwell, a former Army Reserve officer and his biographer. The married father of two -- who was once viewed as a possible contender for the Republican president nomination -- apologized in 2013 for the extramarital affair.
"I know I can never fully assuage the pain that I inflicted on those closest to me and a number of others," he said at the time.
Petraeus' lawyers David Kendall and Robert Barnett in Washington declined to comment on the case when asked by the Associated Press. An official at the clerk's office said the judge hasn't yet scheduled a sentencing date.
The plea deal will allow Petraeus to avoid an embarrassing public trial. He and his attorneys also chose to file the agreement the same day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress on the controversial nuclear deal the U.S. is negotiating with Iran -- a matter that has dominated national headlines.
While the charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison, both the prosecution and the defense recommended that Petraeus pay a $40,000 fine and serve two years of probation. In return for the plea, Petraeus will be immune from future prosecution.
Lawmakers such as Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised his service and leadership to the nation.
"With the Department of Justice investigation now complete, General Petraeus has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor," McCain said in a statement. "He has apologized and expressed deep regret for this situation, and I believe it is time to consider this matter closed."
Petraeus is hailed as one of the best military commanders of his generation. He helped assemble a group of military officers and academics who updated the counterinsurgency field manual for ground forces, and later worked to incorporate those lessons in the U.S.-led wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Petraeus was one of the key architects of a plan approved by then-President George W. Bush to deploy additional U.S. forces to Iraq in 2007. The so-called surge, along with efforts to incorporate Sunni elements into Iraqi forces, was credited with improving security throughout the country and turning the tide of the war.
In 2010, President Barack Obama tapped Petraeus to lead the war effort in Afghanistan after firing then-Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose staff made derogatory remarks about the administration in a Rolling Stone magazine article. The assignment would prove fateful.
While in Afghanistan, Petraeus kept several five-by-eight-inch black notebooks containing his daily schedule and notes he took during official meetings, conferences and briefings, according to the court documents.
The so-called "black books" held reams of classified information, including conversations with the president, top-secret code words, as well as "the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings," they state.
After his tour, Petraeus didn't transfer the black books to an official Defense Department historian as he should have and instead kept them for his personal use, according to the court records. In 2011, he left the notebooks at a private residence in D.C. so Broadwell could have access to them for her forthcoming book, "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus."
Petraeus, who held top-secret clearances and signed multiple non-disclosure agreements with the Pentagon and CIA, even acknowledged the sensitivity of the material to her in a remarkable discussion that was recorded and included in the court records.
"By the way, where are your black books?" Broadwell asked.
"They're in a rucksack somewhere," Petraeus said.
"OK ... You avoiding that? You gonna look through them first?" she asked.
"Umm, well, they're really – I mean, they are highly classified, some of them. They don't have it on it, but I mean there's code-word stuff in there."
Yet no classified information from Petraeus' notebooks ended up in Broadwell's book. The biography, published in 2012 and co-written by Vernon Loeb, metro editor at The Washington Post, was blasted by some reviewers for its non-critical portrait of the man.
Ironically, Petraeus wasn't a target in the initial criminal complaint. Broadwell allegedly sent anonymous and threatening e-mails to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, who threw parties at her home for Petraeus and other officers from U.S. Central Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base. Kelley contacted authorities and set off the investigation that would ultimately uncover Petraeus’ affair and sharing of classified information.
Petraeus lied to investigators when he said "(a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer," the court documents state. "These statements were false."
In recent years, Petraeus has worked in both the public and private sectors. He was a visiting professor at the City University of New York and Harvard University. He was also named a chairman at the New York investment firm, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co.
-- Brendan McGarry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org