For well over a year, Donald Trump ranted constantly about the woman he smeared as “Crooked Hillary,” insisting that her alleged disclosures of classified information — although unintentional, harmless and ultimately deemed innocent by the FBI director — were serious felonies for which she ought to be sent to prison.
“Hillary Clinton’s corruption is on a scale we have never seen before,” he sputtered. “We must not let her take her criminal scheme into the Oval Office.”
That Trump no longer threatens to abuse his office to prosecute her doesn’t change what he or his supporters said about her supposed crimes.
The ugly screams of “Lock her up!” at the Republican convention still echo.
But now Trump evidently believes that David Petraeus — who pled guilty to charges that he intentionally revealed classified information to his mistress — could be trusted to serve in the same exceptionally sensitive post that Clinton once held. The retired general, who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan before serving as CIA director under President Obama, reportedly came very close to a felony conviction that would have sent him to prison for leaking top secrets.
He also lied to FBI agents during their investigation of his misconduct, a crime that FBI director James Comey specifically said that Clinton did not commit.
FBI investigators and Justice Department prosecutors wanted to indict Petraeus, and he only escaped that humiliating fate through a plea bargain — a deal achieved, ironically enough, by David Kendall, the same Washington attorney who has long represented Bill and Hillary Clinton.
When President Obama accepted Petraeus’ resignation from the CIA four years ago, the ostensible reason was the exposure of an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell.
But then a lengthy FBI investigation revealed that he had leaked classified documents to Broadwell — which were found on her computer — and that he had also given her access to his CIA email account.
The matter never went to trial, so the Justice Department presented no evidence concerning the nature of those documents or the damage their disclosure might have inflicted on U.S. national security.
Trump and other Republicans have wrongly compared Clinton’s alleged offenses with those confessed by Petraeus, claiming that he was treated unfairly while she escaped punishment.
But the differences are enormous, and point in Clinton’s favor.
Unlike her case, there was no question that Petraeus knew the leaked documents were classified — nor that he gave them intentionally to his mistress, who lacked any security clearance.
His lies to the FBI constituted a separate but equally serious offense.
Last year, The New York Times reported that career prosecutors and FBI officials were angry because Petraeus was allowed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and avoid trial, although lower-level officials whose offenses were less egregious faced much harsher treatment.
In the end, he was sentenced to probation and a large fine. We shall see whether the same FBI officials who sought to smear the Clintons before Election Day will now speak out against Petraeus — or whether they commit such violations of their oath and their duty solely for partisan aims.
Meanwhile Trump, whose advisers are battering each other over the nation’s top diplomatic post, is considering whether to appoint Petraeus to the job.
As The Intercept observed, it is not even clear that the former CIA chief could qualify for the security clearances required to occupy a cabinet post.
No one doubts that Petraeus is highly qualified — and he is certainly preferable in many ways to Rudolph Giuliani, John Bolton, Mitt Romney and perhaps others whom Trump may be considering.
But to float his name nevertheless represents a new peak of hypocrisy, even for Donald Trump.
Nobody should be surprised if the Senate Republicans who would have to confirm DavidPetraeus go along with this charade, despite their own fervent denunciations of Hillary Clinton’s imaginary crimes.
They are all capable of the same bogus indignation as the leader they have now embraced.
Joe Conason is a nationally syndicated columnist.