The Pentagon is considering retroactively demoting retired Gen. David Petraeus after he admitted to giving classified information to his biographer and mistress while he was still in uniform, three people with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast.
The decision now rests with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, who is said to be willing to consider overruling an earlier recommendation by the Army that Petraeus not have his rank reduced. Such a demotion could cost the storied general hundreds of thousands of dollars—and deal an additional blow to his once-pristine reputation.
“The secretary is considering going in a different direction” from the Army, a defense official told The Daily Beast, because he wants to be consistent in his treatment of senior officers who engage in misconduct and to send a message that even men of Petraeus’s fame and esteemed reputation are not immune to punishment.
Pentagon spokesperson Peter Cook told The Daily Beast that Carter had requested the information ex-Army Secretary John McHugh had when he made his recommendation on the matter, before reaching a final decision. McHugh had recommended taking no action against Petraeus.
“The Department of the Army is still in the process of providing the secretary with information relevant to former Secretary McHugh’s recommendation,” Cook told The Daily Beast. “Once the secretary has an opportunity to consider this information, he will make his decision about next steps, if any, in this matter.”
Carter could also recommend other actions that don’t result in Petraeus losing his fourth star. Or the defense secretary could simply allow the Army’s previous recommendations to stand.
Petraeus, arguably the most well-known and revered military officer of his generation, retired from the Army in 2011 with the rank of a four-star general, the highest rank an Army officer can achieve. If Carter decides to strip Petraeus of his fourth star, he could be demoted to the last rank at which he “satisfactorily” served, according to military regulations.
Reducing Petraeus’s rank, most likely to lieutenant general, could mean he’d have to pay back the difference in pension payments and other benefits that he received as a retired four-star general. That would amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars over his retirement. According to Pentagon figures, a four-star general with roughly the same years of experience as Petraeus was entitled to receive a yearly pension of nearly $220,000. A three-star officer would receive about $170,000.
Petraeus didn’t respond to a request for comment.