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Comey interview: “I thought David Petraeus should have been prosecuted”

Tough talk on the former CIA director.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

It didn’t make it onto the air, but according to a fuller transcript provided to journalists, former FBI Director James Comey made some remarkable comments about former CIA Director David Petraeus in an exclusive interview with ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos.

Petraeus, you’ll recall, emerged from the Iraq War with a sky-high reputation as a military leader, got tapped to lead the CIA by Barack Obama, and had a stunning fall from grace related to mishandling of classified information. But he never really lost his stature as a member of America’s governing elite. He’s a frequent op-ed author and a sought-after speaker, and was considered for a Cabinet job in the Trump administration. But according to Comey, he should have been treated considerably more harshly than he was:

Well, the David Petraeus case was, to my mind, not a close case at all. He was the director of the C.I.A. He was having a romantic relationship with a woman who was also an author, going to write a book about him. He had taken home and stored in a backpack notebooks full of notes about some of the government’s most sensitive secrets. Classified at the top level in the government, including conversations with President Obama about special access programs, some of our — our most closely guarded secrets.

And he had given these notebooks to this person who had neither a need to know, nor the appropriate clearance. And he’d actually allowed her to photograph pages containing top secret information. And then, when the F.B.I. interviewed him about it, he lied about it. And so you had clearly intentional misconduct by a guy who’s in charge of the country’s secrets as the director of the C.I.A., involving huge trove of our top level classified information. And then obstruction of justice.

It was not a close call. In fact, I thought David Petraeus should’ve been prosecuted not just for the mishandling of the classified information, but also for lying to the F.B.I. because lying is — strikes at the heart of our rule of law in this country. And in the end, the attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, decided he would be charged only with the misdemeanor mishandling of classified information.

Stephanopoulos does not follow up on this since it’s so far afield from the main issues in the news today, but it’s a fairly remarkable charge against both Petraeus and Attorney General Eric Holder — and a noteworthy one, since both men continue to be involved in public affairs.

In terms of the main issues in recent politics, Comey’s point here is that what Petraeus was charged with doing was of a very different order of magnitude than anything that was ever alleged regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. The severity of Petraeus’s conduct — which involved both willful, deliberate disclosures of classified information and lying to federal investigators about it — was somewhat obscured by ending with a misdemeanor plea.

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