Federal law enforcement officials have recommended prosecuting retired Army Gen. David H. Petraeus on suspicion of sharing classified information with a woman with whom he was having an affair while he was serving as CIA director, according to two officials familiar with the situation.
The recommendation leaves Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to make the final decision on whether to file felony charges against the former general. It's not uncommon for top Justice Department officials to reject recommendations for prosecution. But with a potential defendant as high-profile as Petraeus, the decision will be a politically fraught one.
Petraeus stepped down in November 2012 as head of the CIA after his affair with an Army reserve officer who was writing his biography became public. He allegedly gave the woman, Paula Broadwell, access to his CIA email account and provided her other confidential information.
Until his resignation, Petraeus was seen as a leading political light both at the Pentagon and the CIA. He was widely lauded as the general who conceived and executed the "surge" strategy in Iraq in the final two years of the George W. Bush administration.
Although he admitted the affair and said he had shown "extremely poor judgment," Petraeus said he never gave Broadwell classified material. FBI agents, however, later reportedly found classified material on her computer at her home in North Carolina.
"A recommendation to prosecute has been made, we were up to speed on it," said one U.S. official, asking not to be identified because the investigation is continuing. "The evidence was gathered in the Charlotte, N.C., area, and Washington was aware of it."
Another official, also speaking confidentially, confirmed that prosecutors have asked for approval to file felony charges against the former general. "We've pushed for it, and we're waiting. It's a top DOJ matter," the official said.
Steve Boylan, a spokesman for Petraeus, said the retired general had no comment.
Last month, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), now the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a longtime backer of Petraeus, wrote Holder demanding a quick resolution of the investigation.
"At this critical moment in our country's history, Congress and the American people cannot afford to have this voice silenced or curtailed by the shadow of a long-running unresolved investigation marked by leaks from anonymous sources," McCain wrote.
The Justice Department said Friday night it would have no comment on the news reports, first reported in the New York Times.
Robert Barnett, Petraeus' attorney, also declined to comment. "I cannot," he said. "I'm sorry."
Petraeus, during a 2013 speech at USC, offered a public apology for his personal behavior.
"I am also keenly aware that the reason for my recent journey was my own doing," he said. "So please allow me to begin my remarks this evening by reiterating how deeply I regret — and apologize for — the circumstances that led to my resignation from the CIA and caused such pain for my family, friends and supporters."
The case against Petraeus began by accident. An FBI agent was investigating threatening emails to Jill Kelley, a prominent socialite in Tampa, Fla., and traced them to Broadwell. Broadwell appeared in the emails to be jealous of Kelley's friendship with another senior officer, Marine Gen. John Allen.
Investigating further, the agent discovered Broadwell's affair with Petraeus.
Petraeus is credited with drafting the military's counterinsurgency doctrine. After serving as commander of U.S.-led forces in Iraq, he led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring from the Army in 2011 to become CIA chief.