Whistleblowers and the prosecution loophole

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(Commentary) by Shanna Devine (Government Accountability Project) and Liz Hempowicz (Project on Government Oversight)

Published in The HIll, March 12, 2015

When facing the prospect of criminal prosecution for leaking highly classified material to his mistress and later lying about it to the FBI, General David Petraeus found unlikely allies on Capitol Hill. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) have all spoken out against criminally prosecuting the four-star general, in part because they feel he has “suffered enough.” This is not the first time that a high-ranking individual may skirt punishment for infractions that would land a subordinate in jail for years. Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was also recently allegedly involved in highly classified leaks to the film producers of Zero Dark Thirty and treated with near impunity.

According to media reports Petraeus plead guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material for which he may face up to a year in prison. . His paltry sentence is a far cry from the many years of prison time that many whistleblowers face when they disclose protected information in an attempt to further the public interest. Petraeus claimed no such motive. He seems only to have wanted to help his mistress and biographer, and Panetta shared it with a producer from Hollywood – the common thread between the three stories is that these men both leaked information for purely personal gain and each received little more than a slap on the wrist.

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