Abbe Lowell Points to Petraeus’ Lies in Bid to Have Stephen Kim Released Early

As both the New York Times and The Intercept reported this morning, the lawyer for imprisoned State Department official Stephen Kim, Abbe Lowell, has written District of Columbia US Attorney Ronald Machen demanding his client be released based on the standard applied to David Petraeus, who admitted he had committed crimes parallel to those to which Kim pled guilty.

In a recent profile, The Intercept‘s Peter Maas chronicled the 5-year ordeal Kim went from the time he spoke with Fox News reporter James Rosen before the reporter wrote a story about North Korea’s likely response to UN sanctions and the time he pled guilty to one count related to the Espionage act. As with Jeffrey Sterling, the FBI’s case against Kim largely relied on metadata, but not the content, of his communications with Rosen. With Kim, however, records also showed abundant Rosen contacts with others, including then Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough.

In his letter, Lowell argues DOJ accused his client of the same actions Petraeus has pled to, but that the government used a double standard in plea negotiations, particularly with regards to Kim’s indictment for lying to the FBI. Lowell emphasizes that’s precisely what Petraeus pled to, and it didn’t prevent him from getting a misdemeanor plea.

When the incident arose and we discussed the case and negotiations for a resolution occurred, we suggested a misdemeanor for the mishandling or retention of classified information. You rejected that out of hand, saying that a large reason for your position was that Mr. Kim lied to FBI agents when he was confronted with the issue of his dealings with the Fox News reporter.


General Petraeus’s factual statement admits that he lied about his conduct when questioned by the FBI, denying that he had retained classified information or ever provided any classified information to his biographer. The agreed-upon plea states that General Petraeus knew these statements were false when they were stated.

Despite the nature of the information and these intentional false statements, the Department is not only permitting but is actively recommending that General Petraeus plead guilty to a misdemeanor.

Lowell also argues that Kim’s motivation was more “noble” than the “very personal” reasons that motivated Petraeus to leak highly classified information.

Of course, this letter is unlikely to win Kim an early release from prison.

But it does lay out, once again, what a relatively light deal Petraeus got as opposed to less senior leakers.

About Marcy Wheeler

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler wrote the "Right to Know" column for ExposeFacts. She is best known for providing in-depth analysis of legal documents related to "war on terrorism" programs and civil liberties. Wheeler blogs at and publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon and the Progressive. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Wheeler won the 2009 Hillman Award for blog journalism.