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Reporters Committee leads news media coalition in effort to unseal Petraeus sentencing memo and letters

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The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight news media organizations have asked a federal court in North…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and eight news media organizations have asked a federal court in North Carolina to unseal a sentencing memorandum and related letters in the case of retired General and former CIA Director David H. Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to mishandling classified materials.

The news groups noted that while the sentencing proceeding was open to the public, a memorandum Petraeus filed and letters submitted to the court regarding his sentencing are sealed. The media coalition is asking the court to immediately unseal those documents.

“Because Petraeus served as a high-ranking government official, and pleaded guilty to a charge involving the mishandling of classified information, the public has an especially strong interest in obtaining a full understanding of the circumstances surrounding his prosecution, guilty plea, and sentence. Indeed, the prosecution and outcome of Petraeus’s case has garnered significant attention from the press and the public,” the media coalition argued. “Moreover, in other, similar prosecutions of defendants who have pleaded guilty to charges relating to alleged leaks of classified information, the sentencing memoranda are public.”

Petraeus pleaded guilty in federal court to mishandling classified materials. He had reportedly given the materials to his biographer, with whom he was also having an affair, and subsequently lied to law enforcement officials about his actions. Petraeus was sentenced to two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine. His sentence was questioned by attorneys for other government leakers, whose clients received much harsher penalties for similar offenses.

“The public interest in this case is unparalleled. A one-time director of the CIA and former 4-star general pleads guilty to mishandling classified documents, yet the memoranda and letters that may have influenced his sentencing are unavailable for public inspection. We hope the court corrects this situation to benefit the public and to advance transparency in judicial proceedings,” noted Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown.

Joining the Reporters Committee in the motion are The Associated Press; Bloomberg L.P.; The Charlotte Observer Publishing Company; Dow Jones & Company, Inc.; First Look Media, Inc.; National Public Radio, Inc.; The New York Times Company; and The Washington Post.

About the Reporters Committee

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was founded by leading journalists and media lawyers in 1970, at a time when the nation’s news media faced a wave of government subpoenas asking reporters to name confidential sources. Today it provides legal resources, and support to protect First Amendment freedoms and the newsgathering rights of journalists. Funded by corporate, foundation, and individual contributions, the Reporters Committee serves the nation’s leading news organizations; thousands of reporters, editors, and media lawyers; and many more who use our online and mobile resources. For more information, go to, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

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