Could David Petraeus, Rumored Candidate for Secretary of State, Get a Security Clearance?

After criticizing Clinton for mishandling classified information, Trump is reportedly considering Petraeus for a top job. But can the retired general get clearance?

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22:  Retired US Army Gen. David Petraeus arrives at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill September 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. The hearing focused on United States Middle East Policy.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Retired US Army Gen. David Petraeus arrives at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 22, 2015, in Washington, DC. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

After months of criticizing Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information while serving as secretary of state, Donald Trump is reportedly considering David Petraeus for the same job, even though the four-star general and former CIA director pled guilty to passing classified information to his former lover and biographer.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that Petraeus is in the running for secretary of state in the Trump administration. The anonymously sourced report could not be confirmed, but Petraeus reportedly met with Trump just before the election, and has since been complimentary about the president elect.

On German cable news, Petraeus called Trump a “dealmaker,” and said, “He’s right to criticize Washington over its partisanship and its inability to forge compromises.”

Petraeus resigned as CIA director in 2012 after the FBI discovered he was having an affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer. The resulting investigation revealed that he had given her highly classified information, and Justice Department prosecutors wanted to indict Petraeus on felony charges.

According to his 2015 plea deal, Petraeus intentionally gave Broadwell access to eight “Black Books” filled with highly classified information, including “the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions,” and even Petraeus’s conversations with the president. He also admitted that he had misled the FBI during the investigation.

In contrast to national security whistleblowers — who frequently face espionage charges and decades in prison for divulging classified information — Petraeus never went to jail, and was sentenced to only two years probation and a $100,000 fine. Petraeus went on to draw a lucrative salary as chairman of private equity firm KKR, while many speculated he was pondering a return to public life.

It was unclear from his plea deal whether Petraeus kept a Defense Department or CIA security clearance, but he continued to advise the White House on counterterrorism strategy in Iraq — possibly requiring him to have access to classified materials.

When asked by The Intercept whether Petraeus still had a security clearance, the CIA declined to comment. The DOD also declined to comment “as a matter of individual privacy.”

When reached through his assistant at KKR, Petraeus also declined to comment.

A Congressional Research Service report from October reviewed security clearance procedures and requirements, noting there are 13 guidelines for determining eligibility. Four of those guidelines included areas that could potentially raise questions for Petraeus, including sexual behavior, personal conduct, criminal conduct and handling protected information.

However, issues raised in those areas do not necessarily mean a person won’t receive a clearance. “Adverse information regarding one of the guidelines will not automatically result in denial of a security clearance,” the report says.

Regardless of his ability to get a clearance, Petraeus’s nomination could open the administration to charges of hypocrisy. Hillary Clinton’s use of an insecure, private email server was a mainstay of Republican criticism throughout the campaign, and during numerous Congressional hearings and investigations, which accused her of mishandling classified information.

In a September speech attacking his Democratic rival, Trump said, “If she applied for a low-level job at the State Department today she couldn’t even get a security clearance.”

Petraeus previously served as an adviser to Hillary Clinton, on her national security “working group.”

The Trump transition team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Top photo: Retired U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus arrives at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on Sept. 22, 2015, in Washington, D.C.

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