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Retired four-star U.S. Army general and former CIA executive director David Petraeus GS ’85 pleaded guilty last Thursday to a federal misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified information.

He was subsequently sentenced by U.S. Magistrate David Keesler to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.

David Kendall, Petraeus' attorney, declined to comment on behalf of Petraeus. Petraeus could not be reached for comment.

According to The New York Times, the FBI and the Department of Justice considered bringing felony charges against Petraeus but ultimately decided against it.

The original plea bargain by the defendant entailed a $40,000 fine, butKeesler rejected that fine. Though the financial penalty was doubled, Petraeus was spared the prospect of facing public scrutiny in court and spending time in prison.

Petraeus resigned from his post at the CIA on November 9, 2012, a day after President Barack Obama was informed of Petraeus’ extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and the FBI investigation into Petraeus' leaking of documents to Broadwell.

According to the Associated Press, Petraeus had given Broadwell access to his “black books” — binders of highly classified intelligence and confidential information.

Before exposure of his affair, Petraeus had voiced non-committal interest in becoming University President on multiple occasions. The idea of Petraeus, who was an involved graduate alumnus of the Wilson School, serving as University President was well-received at the time by many faculty members.

Petraeus said he was "living the dream here at the CIA" in a September 2012 op-ed in The Daily Princetonian, a month before FBI agents confronted him in his office about improperly disclosing national security documents.

After his resignation, Petraeus took on faculty positions at a number of universities, including the City University of New York and the University of Southern California, and was active in non-profit initiatives for veterans.

Jonathan Hafetz, a visiting associate research scholar in the program in Law and Public Affairs, said he believes there is a clear asymmetry and unfairness in how the government handles the misuse and inappropriate disclosure of classified information.

“Because Petraeus is a prominent member of the establishment with powerful friends, he receives a slap on the wrist for disclosing national security information to his mistress,” Hafetz explained, adding that Edward Snowden, who prompted a critical national conversation about secret government surveillance, has been threatened with life imprisonment if he wishes to return to the United States.

Some members of Congress, including John McCain, have advocated on Petraeus' behalf, Hafetz noted.

“The system seems far too willing to excuse well-connected individuals like Petraeus and far too eager to impose draconian punishments on those who prompt important conversations about illegal government action,” Hafetz said.

Hafetz also noted that current laws in America render abundant flexibility for the government to take discretion when prosecuting these cases. Under the Espionage Act, the government does not have to take the public interest into account.The manner and variability with which the US government has applied these laws recently is “not consistent with democratic values,” according to Hafetz.

Columbia University law professor Phillip Bobbit ’71, in contrast, said he believes the punishment was not "light in any way."
"His real punishment was the removal at the top of his career," Bobbit said. "This is a man who has devoted his entire life to public service, and to take that away from him is a much bigger fine."
Little comparison can be drawn between Petraeus and Snowden, Bobbit said.
"Petraeus did not disclose secrets to other governments, and his goal was not to destroy the system he served," Bobbit said.

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