A coalition of news organizations that includes The Intercept filed a suit today demanding the release of information about the sentencing of former CIA director and retired general David Petraeus, who last week pleaded guilty to mishandling classified materials.
Petraeus, who admitted to giving secret information to his former mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell, was sentenced on a misdemeanor charge to two years probation and was fined $100,000.
More than 30 people, including high-level government and military officials, reportedly filed letters of support for Petraeus ahead of his sentencing. “The letters paint a portrait of a man considered among the finest military leaders of his generation who also has committed a grave but very uncharacteristic error in judgment,” U.S. Magistrate Judge David Keesler said at the sentencing.
But those letters, and the sentencing memorandum filed by Petraeus’s lawyers, remain under seal in a federal court in the Western District of North Carolina. The Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media, is joining The New York Times, Bloomberg, the Associated Press, The Washington Post and other media in suing to have them released. (Here’s the motion and a memo laying out the news organization’s arguments.)
“Given the attention the case has received, we think it’s important for the public to see the arguments that Petraeus made for leniency, and the people who wrote letters in support of him,” said Hannah Bloch-Wehba, a fellow with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which is coordinating the lawsuit. Bloch-Wehba said that in other leak cases, sentencing memoranda have been public, but that thanks to a rule particular to the North Carolina court, Petraeus’s escaped scrutiny.
Petraeus’s monetary punishment — which was more than double what his lawyers and prosecutors had agreed on but still amounts to less than he reportedly charges for speaking engagements — stands in contrast to the stiff penalties sought for other recent leakers. The Intercept has noted that the Justice Department appears to have a “two-tier justice system” for punishing leakers, wherein senior officials accused of mishandling classified information have tended to get off with far lighter consequences than lower-level leakers.
Indeed, last week the government asked for 19 to 24 years for former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, who was convicted in January of giving classified information about the CIA’s efforts against Iran’s nuclear program to New York Times reporter James Risen. Sterling’s lawyers have pointed to the Petraeus deal in asking for leniency, saying the court “cannot turn a blind eye to the positions the government has taken in similar cases.”