Retired Army Gen. David Petraeus on Tuesday offered profuse apologies for the extramarital affair that led to his resignation from the CIA.
"It's good to be back," he said after expressing sorrow for the incident that led to his downfall and almost sent him to jail.
"Four years ago I made a serious mistake, one that brought discredit on me and those closest to me," Petraeus said in his opening statement before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, referring to his affair with Paula Broadwell, a West Point graduate who was writing his biography.
"There's nothing I can do to undo what I did," he said. It was difficult to convey "how sorry I am," he said.
"It was a violation of the trust placed in me," Petraeus added. "I can only say again how sorry I am to those I let down and then strive to go forward with a greater sense of humility and purpose, and gratitude to those who stood with me during a very difficult chapter in my life."
The heralded former commander of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan resigned his post as CIA director after little over a year on the job when the affair went public in 2012.
Petraeus later pled guilty to one misdemeanor count of mishandling classified information and escaped jail time, although the FBI and the Justice Department reportedly had pressed for felony charges against him for sharing classified information with his mistress.
The fallout for from the affair also ensnared Marine Gen. John Allen, then the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, over his email exchanges with a woman who suspected she was being threatened by Petraeus' mistress.
Allen was later cleared of any wrongdoing, but he withdrew from consideration to become NATO commander and retired from the military. He is now President Obama's special envoy for Iraq and Syria who reportedly will be stepping down this fall.
Senators from both sides of the aisle were more than ready to forgive the former four-star credited as the "architect" of the surge in troops in Iraq in 2007-2008 that Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, the committee chairman, said had rescued the failing policy in Iraq of former President George W. Bush.
"More than ever our nation must be able to draw on the wisdom and experience of its most distinguished leaders," said McCain, who constantly referred to his friendship with Petraeus during his unsuccessful campaign for the presidency in 2008.
"That's why I'm so pleased to welcome back before this committee one of our most distinguished leaders. Welcome general, it's good to see you," McCain said. In another sign of respect, the senator made Petraeus the only witness in the hearing on Mideast policy.
Senators heaped praise on Petraeus for his 37 years of service in the Army and rarely challenged any of his position statements in more than two-and-a-half hours of testimony. Only one referred to his apology for the affair, saying it was testament to Petraeus' integrity.
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, told Petraeus, "Courage is an element of character and courage to admit mistakes particularly in an open forum such as you did at the beginning of your testimony today to me is a huge indicator of character which I think is the essential quality of leadership."
--Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.