As the election unfolded, Donald Trump seized on Hillary Clinton’s email scandal as a rallying cry, coining “Crooked Hillary” as supporters chanted calls to “lock her up.” Now, Trump is considering hiring a secretary of state whose career was actually ended by a classified information scandal.
Yesterday, former CIA Director David Petraeus journeyed to Trump Tower, reportedly making an audition for the post. The visit brought to mind the scandal Petraeus has become known for, and invited parallels to Clinton’s misuse of classified information. But Petraeus’ incident, as far as it can be compared, was deemed far more severe by investigators.
In 2012, Petraeus resigned as CIA Director, and it was later revealed he had provided classified information to his biographer and mistress, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus eventually admitted to providing information from “black books,” which included covert officers’ identities, intelligence capabilities, and notes on meetings with President Obama.
Petraeus initially denied allegations that he mishandled the classified information, but facing more evidence obtained by the FBI, he plead guilty to a misdemeanor in 2015, avoiding a trial. He faced jail time, but prosecutors recommended two years of probation, and a judge agreed. As he met with Trump, Petraeus was still on probation from the deal.
Clinton’s private email server also pointed to a misuse of classified information, but the FBI decided the case — which pointed more to a lack of technical judgment than corruption — was not worth charging Clinton over. In an unusual press conference in July announcing the FBI’s decision, Director James Comey cited a lack of motive in recommending against charges:
“In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts,” he said. “All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.” It is difficult to not see “the cases prosecuted” as a line that could easily refer to Petraeus.
Trump has already weighed in on the two cases, claiming that Petraeus’ actions were less of a problem than Clinton’s. “The system is rigged,” he tweeted in July. “General Petraeus got in trouble for far less. Very very unfair! As usual, bad judgment.”
As CNN points out, the scandal could pose some hurdles for Petraeus’ appointment, although a more serious felony charge would have complicated the decision far more. Regardless, the president has wide power to grant security clearances. If he ultimately taps Petraeus for the post, it may be a decision hindered more by political appearances than feasibility. The shadow of the Clinton scandal, and Trump’s eagerness to attack her for it, will likely raise questions about the differences between the two.
But at least so far, Trump has not shown much interest in the comparisons. After yesterday’s meeting, he fired off a short tweet: “Just met with General Petraeus--was very impressed!”
Correction, 4:33 PM ET: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Paula Broadwell as Pamela Broadwell.