With a little help from my friends

Toen ex-generaal/ex-CIA-directeur David Petraeus afgelopen april werd veroordeeld tot een voorwaardelijke celstraf en een boete wegens het delen van geheime informatie met zijn minnares, kwam hij er – naar verhouding – uitermate genadig vanaf.

Misschien niet helemaal toevallig, aangezien gisteren bleek dat maar liefst 34 prominente figuren, variërend van Amerikaanse senatoren tot Tony Blair, de rechter die de zaak behandelde een brief hadden gestuurd waarin ze hem om clementie vroegen:

Among the current and former lawmakers who wrote in was former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who has pushed for strict anti-leak legislation and who said in 2010 that the individuals responsible for WikiLeaks “are going to have blood on their hands.” WikiLeaks was “not only an attack on our national security, but an offense against our democracy and the principle of transparency,” he told CBS News.

Just a few years later, he said that Petraeus’s offense, by contrast, “showed that even such an extraordinary human being can make mistakes and yield to public temptation.”

Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., also wrote in on Petraeus’s behalf, though he regularly blasts the Obama administration for national security leaks, but argued that his “friend” Petraeus should not see jail time. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has called Edward Snowden’s actions “treason,” wrote that she believes Petraeus “recognizes the error of his actions as well as the importance of protecting classified information.”

Meer in het algemeen horen prominente figuren natuurlijk anders te worden behandeld dan het gewone plebs, zo lijkt het wel:

Not every bad act is a crime. Not every bad act that can technically be categorized as a crime should be pursued by prosecutors. And not every bad act that clearly amounts to a crime should be pursued by prosecutors in the United States.

Those thoughts are sparked by the recent indictments of international soccer officials on bribery and corruption charges and of former House speaker Dennis Hastert on charges of structuring hush money payments to avoid bank reporting laws and then lying to the FBI about his conduct. […]

If Hastert sexually abused a student when he was a teacher and wrestling coach, that conduct is repugnant; it should have been reported and prosecuted decades ago.

Now, it is too late for that. Instead, Hastert was tripped up by bank reporting requirements intended to catch drug kingpins and organized crime bosses. His alleged crime is that he structured his hush money withdrawals to avoid triggering reporting rules and then — seemingly on a single occasion — lied to FBI agents about why he was making the withdrawals. Lying is bad. Lying to FBI agents is even worse.

But, really, wouldn’t that have been your first instinct, too? I’d feel differently if Hastert had stuck with the lie, in a second interview after he’d had time to think it over, or before a grand jury. (And, yes, I’m thinking about President Clinton’s impeachment here.)

Hastert did, it seems, a terrible thing. He is, or was, paying for it — literally. He shelled out $1.7 million “to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct,” the indictment says. He is at once alleged perpetrator and victim of a shake-down scheme; his alleged victim is both prey and blackmailer.

Yes, but he’s also a former speaker of the House, two heartbeats away from the presidency. If this sordid scheme arose when Hastert were in office, not lobbying away, I might feel differently.

Now, though, I keep returning to the question: What, precisely, is the federal government’s interest — the public interest — at this point in prosecution and humiliation?

Zero tolerance is immers uitsluitend bedoeld voor ‘dat soort mensen’.

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