Appearing Before Senate, Petraeus Apologizes for Revealing Classified Information

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Former CIA Director David Petraeus leaves the federal courthouse in Charlotte, North Carolina, on April 23. Petraeus was sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to pay a $100,000 fine after pleading guilty to mishandling classified information. On Tuesday, he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on U.S. policy in the Middle East. Chris Keane/REUTERS

David Petraeus testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday morning about the Mideast and used the occasion to apologize for the scandal that led to his resignation in 2012, which included an affair with his biographer and the sharing of classified information.

“Four years ago, I made a serious mistake—one that brought discredit on me and pain to those closest to me,” Petraeus said. “It was a violation of the trust placed in me and a breach of the values to which I had been committed throughout my life.”

The hearing was the first congressional appearance by the general since his resignation. He currently chairs the KKR Global Institute, a global investment firm.

“There is nothing I can to do to undo what I did. I can only say again how sorry I am to those I let down and then strive to go forward with a greater sense of humility and purpose, and with gratitude to those who stood with me during a very difficult chapter in my life,” Petraeus said.

During the affair, Petraeus shared information with his mistress using a joint email account. Each person would log on and see draft messages left by the other. The two hoped to avoid detection, but when a Tampa, Florida, socialite complained about harassment from Petraeus’s mistress, the FBI began an investigation that led them to Petraeus, one of the most celebrated generals in modern times.

Many digital activists have complained that Petraeus was able to secure a lenient plea deal while various whistleblowers are serving prison time. The Senate panel was in a forgiving mood Tuesday.

Senator Angus King, independent from Maine, acknowledged Petraeus’s apology near the end of the hearing, praising his character and lauding him for coming forth.

Petraeus received a warm reception from most of the other committee members, including Chairman John McCain, who originally invited him to testify for his expertise on the Middle East in light of the Iran nuclear deal and the worsening refugee crisis in Syria. McCain was one of the most vocal supporters of Petraeus’s 2007 “surge” in Iraq and campaigned on the success of the surge when he lost to Barack Obama in the 2008 election.

After the apology, Petraeus’s testimony focused on U.S. interests in Syria, Iraq and Iran, with a few side questions about Afghanistan. The Republican members of the committee who opposed the Iran nuclear deal peppered Petraeus with questions about the legitimacy of verification measures and the potential efficacy of the agreement, but Petraeus mostly demurred. He said that the deal, now that it is entering the implementation phase, should be backed up by a “clear, ironclad statement” from the executive branch and Congress that Iran will face military force if it ever pursues highly enriched uranium. The administration has always left the military option on the table.

“Frankly, if Congress and the White House were to do it together...establishing a U.S. policy that becomes foundational would be a very important move,” Petraeus said of a broader Middle East strategy in relation to Iran. “This is the time to be absolutely clear, straightforward.”

At times, it appeared that committee members were pressing Petraeus to fault the current administration’s Middle East policy. When asked to explain what Obama’s overall goal in the region is, Petraeus said he would “defer to the administration on that.”

Republican Senator Tom Cotton, one of the harshest critics of the Iran deal, asked the former general whether he had made recommendations to Obama about countering “barrel bombs,” explosives used by the Bashar Assad regime against Syrian civilians. Petraeus explained that the situation in Syria was much different in 2012—prior to the rise of ISIS—when he was in plainclothes as the director of the CIA.

He declined to state any recommendations he made to the administration on the Middle East before resigning as CIA director and remained neutral on Obama’s performance. Petraeus denied that the current administration has a record of “no action,” a charge leveled by Republican Senator Dan Sullivan.

“Rumors of America’s demise have been greatly exaggerated,” Petraeus said.