Politics & Government

Petraeus defends candidacy for secretary of state while Snowden slams him

Former CIA director retired Gen. David Petraeus arrives at Trump Tower for a meeting with Presiden-elect Donald Trump, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, in New York.
Former CIA director retired Gen. David Petraeus arrives at Trump Tower for a meeting with Presiden-elect Donald Trump, Monday, Nov. 28, 2016, in New York. AP

Former General David Petraeus defended his qualifications to be the Trump administration's secretary of state despite a scandal that led to his resignation from the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency and a conviction for mishandling classified information.

"Five years ago, I made a serious mistake," Petraeus said in a Sunday interview on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," adding that he's already paid a "very heavy price" for his missteps. "Folks will have to factor that in and determine whether that is indeed disqualifying or not."

Meanwhile, in an interview with Yahoo News' Katie Couric, government whistleblower Edward Snowden said the former CIA director leaked information that was "far more highly classified" than anything he had ever disclosed, but with minimal penalty.

Snowden, a former NSA contractor who leaked details on the government's collection of intelligence on Americans, said that he shared information "with the public for their benefit," whereas Petraeus shared information with "his biographer and lover for personal benefit."

Petraeus is being considered for secretary of state even though Trump, throughout his campaign, lambasted Hillary Clinton for her handling of classified material on a private email server and chants of "lock her up" became standard at his rallies. FBI Director James Comey said Clinton's actions, while careless, didn't amount to a crime.

Petraeus, 64, is among the candidates for the State Department job that remains unfilled even as Trump's transition team has named people to lesser roles. President-elect Donald Trump met with several people in recent weeks, but his team indicated that the search is broadening.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence said Sunday that the list of people being considered "might grow a little bit," as reports emerged that Jon Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah and U.S. ambassador to China in the Obama administration, may be an additional candidate.

Pence, in his own Sunday appearance on ABC, said that Petraeus "is an American hero" who has paid the consequences for his mistakes.

Petraeus' extramarital affair with his biographer -- with whom he shared classified documents -- led to his earlier departure from public life and a 2015 plea deal that required him to serve two years on probation on a misdemeanor charge.

In his interview, Snowden said there is a "two -tier" justice system in the U.S. that favors people like Petraeus with government connections or personal wealth.

But the former four-star general, who once drew praise for his leadership in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he's continued in international work as chairman of the KKR Global Institute. In that role, he's visited nearly 40 countries, he said.

The future secretary of state will shepherd the foreign policy of Trump, who made waves on Dec. 2 over a telephone call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen that went against longstanding U.S. practice. The call was expected to agitate the Chinese government, which sees Taiwan as a renegade province.

Petraeus was also questioned about how he and Trump would force Mexico to pay for the border wall Trump has proposed, to which he said he was "not sure what the scheme would be there for that" but that the U.S. would have to work with Mexico to figure out how to increase security without jeopardizing commerce.

Petraeus said Trump is "quite pragmatic" on policy issues.

Also, although Trump has sometimes exchanged praise with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Petraeus said Russia remains "one of the threats, one of the challenges to our security." Strategic talks could be warranted with Russia, though, over defeating the Islamic State, resolving problems in Syria and about the "challenges of the Russian-supported separatists in southeastern Ukraine," he said.

Were Petraeus to join Trump's White House, he'd be the third former general hired by the president-elect — including the proposed nominee for Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, and Michael Flynn, who was named national security adviser. Addressing concerns that the administration would be heavily influenced by former military officials, Petraeus said that much of his job as a senior general was diplomatic.