Email to a friend

Details So Far in Petraeus Sex Scandal Not Legally Damaging, But Could Trigger Punishment

Salacious details leaked by anonymous Washington sources about respected current and former generals embroiled in a sex scandal don’t yet add up to anything legally damaging, military law experts told Stars and Stripes.

The CIA said Thursday it was investigating whether its former director, retired Gen. David Petraeus, misused agency resources to carry on an admitted affair. And the Pentagon Inspector General is combing through voluminous email conversations that the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, engaged in with a married Tampa socialite for evidence of impropriety.

Unless connected to more weighty crimes like intelligence leaks or misuse of government assets, none of their reported actions so far would typically trigger a court-martial, they said.

Administrative punishment is another matter, however. Careers of rank-and-file officers regularly end over marital infidelity, which is viewed as something worse than a personal failing in the military, experts said.

“Adultery hurts good order and discipline and morale in units, which is why it’s illegal,” said Greg Rinckey, a former Army prosecutor who focuses on military law in private practice. “Imagine a soldier fighting in Afghanistan who gets a phone call, learns someone in another unit back home is [having an affair with] his wife – what does that do to him as an effective soldier?”

But Petraeus says he was out of the military by the time he had the affair with his biographer, and Allen has told his bosses at the Defense Department that he never had an affair. Pentagon investigators are combing through emails and documents from a two-year exchange that Allen carried on with Tampa socialite Jill Kelley.

“It’s likely someone’s going through each of the emails with a highlighter looking for any indication of misconduct,” Rinckey said.

Even if cleared of adultery suspicions, the whispers could prevent Allen from moving to another top job, or even prompt some form of punishment, said Elizabeth Hillman, president of the National Institute of Military Justice and a law professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law.

At Allen’s level, an appearance of impropriety could bring allegations of discrediting the military or of damaging good order and discipline, she said.

“Virtually anything can constitute a potential military crime, and even more likely, constitute an administrative action,” she said.

Petraeus, the respected former U.S. top general in Iraq and Afghanistan, resigned last week as CIA director after an affair came to light that he said took place with his biographer, Army reservist Paula Broadwell, after he left the Army in 2011.

As a retired officer receiving a pension, Petraeus is subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and he could technically be recalled for prosecution even for violations that took place when he was a civilian, experts said.

There have been a tiny number of such cases involving sexual matters, including Maj. Gen. David Hale’s demotion and $10,000 fine in 1999 for having affairs with the wives of several subordinates. In 1957, retired Rear Adm. Selden Hooper was convicted of sodomy and other charges and stripped of veterans benefits and pay – a case that Hillman said haunted gay military retirees for decades.

But there’s little chance such will happen to Petraeus, Hillman said.

“What would anyone gain by prosecuting him just because it possibly could be done?” she said. “He’s a four-star general, and at that level, I think it would take a decision by the president to actually do it.”


Attorney Locator

Find an attorney near you.
Click below.

Contact Us

  • Tully Rinckey announces new hires and promotion

    Derrick T. Hogan was promoted to senior associate, overseeing the criminal defense practice in Albany. Hogan joined as a law clerk in 2009. Morgan Smith joined as recruitment manager. Smith has more than 14 years of staffing and recruitment experience and previously …

  • Albany Police Officer Arrested

    Officer Caught on Camera Slamming 15-Year old Girl Albany Police Chief Brendan Cox says on July 26th, Officer Ervis Miftari was called to St. Anne Institute, a rehabilitation center for troubled girls, to help with one of the residents, who …

Read All

  • Free Download: EEOC 2016 Update White Paper

    You Could Be Sharing Confidential Info and Not Even Know It Tully Rinckey’s white paper details the Equal Employment Opportunity’s (“EEOC”) nationwide change to procedure that has gone largely unnoticed. The new procedure applies to Charges filed on or after …

Read All

Read All

  • Tully Rinckey PLLC Binghamton Office Ribbon Cutting

    You’re Invited: Tully Rinckey PLLC Binghamton Office Ribbon Cutting Tully Rinckey PLLC, an upstate-wide coast-to-coast 70 attorney full-service law firm, is holding a ribbon cutting for its new office space at 4100 Vestal Road, Suite 104, Vestal, NY 13850 on …

Read All