US media outlets are demanding that a federal court unseals documents related to the sentencing of former CIA Director David Petraeus. Last week, he received two years of probation and $100,000 fine after pleading guilty to leaking classified documents.
A coalition of nine US news organizations, including The New York
Times, the Associated Press and the Washington Post, filed the
lawsuit on Monday in federal court in Charlotte, North Carolina.
They are seeking to unseal the sentencing memorandum and other
related documents in the Petraeus case, including the letters of
support from more than 30 high-level government officials. The
sentencing of Petraeus was open to the public, but all court
documents were sealed.
“The public interest in this case is unparalleled. A one-time
director of the CIA and a former 4-star general pleads guilty to
mishandling classified documents, yet the memoranda and letters
that may have influenced his sentencing are unavailable for
public inspection,” said Bruce D. Brown, executive director
of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the group
coordinating the lawsuit.
“We hope the court corrects this situation to benefit the
public and to advance transparency in judicial proceedings,”
Brown said in a statement.
The media coalition’s lawsuit seeks “a full understanding of the
circumstances surrounding [Petraeus’] prosecution, guilty plea,
and sentence” under the First Amendment and common law,
which guarantees the press and the public “a presumptive
right of access to criminal trials, as well as other pre- and
post-trial documents an court proceedings.”
The lawsuit also demands
right of access to documents in order to know which current and
former high-level public officials wrote supportive sentencing
letters for Petraeus.
The media coalition also argued that in similar prosecutions of
defendants who have pleaded guilty to leaks of classified
information the sentencing memoranda are made public.
But Petraeus’ lawyer, David Kendall, told the court last week
that in this case, his client had not disseminated classified
information to the public.
North Carolina Federal Magistrate Judge David Kessler said at the
sentencing that 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
Petraeus is a retired general who headed the Central Intelligence
Agency until details of his marital affair drove him to resign in
2012. He was sentenced for leaking classified secrets to his
former mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell. He pleaded
guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of
classified information, a misdemeanor, and received a two-year
probation and $100,000 fine.
— Mashable (@mashable) April
Petraeus admitted in court documents filed last month that he
provided Broadwell with personal notebooks containing highly
sensitive details, including “classified information
regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy,
intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions,
quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National
Security Council hearings.”
Petraeus was also accused of improperly storing classified
materials in his Virginia home and lying to the FBI in October
2010 about not sharing any classified information with Broadwell.
Investigators had originally opened up a probe against Petraeus
in 2012, after a Florida socialite received threatening messages
which officials were able to tie to Broadwell. In the midst of
that investigation, authorities discovered that Broadwell had
obtained classified documents and launched a new probe to
identify the source.
“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.
There is still little known about what was included in the
classified information, though there is speculation that a plea
deal was reached to avoid the case going to full trial, where it
might be revealed what documents were shared with Broadwell.
What is known is that ABC News reported that Broadwell revealed
an unreported detail about the September 11 terrorist attacks in
Benghazi, Libya that left four Americans dead, including
Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
“Now I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA
annex had actually – had taken a couple of Libyan militia members
prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an
effort to try to get these prisoners back. So that’s still being
vetted,” Broadwell told an audience at the University of
Denver in October 2012.
The CIA at the time denied the claims, stating that they are