A coalition of media organizations led by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press prevailed today in an effort to unseal documents related to the sentencing of retired general David H. Petraeus, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
In April, Petraeus pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to one misdemeanor charge related to sharing classified information with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.
Although Petraeus's sentencing proceedings were public, his Sentencing Memorandum, which argued that the court should impose a sentence without prison time, was filed under seal pursuant to a local criminal rule. That rule requires parties to file under seal documents "which incorporate or refer to a defendant's pre-sentence report." In addition, dozens of public figures and officials sent letters to Magistrate Judge David C. Keesler urging him to impose a lenient sentence. Those letters were also unavailable to the public until today. The Statement of Reasons in support of the judgment was filed under seal as well.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of media organizations moved to intervene and unseal the sentencing-related documents. The coalition argued that the press and the public have a right of access to documents filed in connection with sentencing that is well established under the U.S. Constitution and common law.
The secrecy in Petraeus's case was also unusual. In other prosecutions of defendants who have pleaded guilty to charges related to alleged leaks of classified information, sentencing-related documents have been made public. And Petraeus's position as a former high-ranking military officer and public official made his prosecution especially noteworthy.
The unsealed documents reveal that a long list of public officials, including Senators Lindsey Graham and Dianne Feinstein, wrote in support of Petraeus. Former National Security Advisor Steven Hadley called Petraeus a "person of courage, character, and integrity." And former Representative Jane Harman wrote, "Dave Petraeus is a national hero." Many of the letter-writers, including Graham, have strongly opposed national security leaks under other circumstances.
The Associated Press, Bloomberg L.P., The Charlotte Observer Publishing Co., Dow Jones & Co., Inc., First Look Media, Inc., National Public Radio, Inc., The New York Times Co., and The Washington Post joined the Reporters Committee in this effort.