WASHINGTON - Former American military commander and CIA chief David Petraeus will plead guilty to illegally providing classified secrets to his mistress, a dramatic fall from grace for a general once lauded as a war hero.
Petraeus, feted in the US as the man who changed the course of the Iraq war, has signed a plea deal and statement "that indicate he will plead guilty" to unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
The outcome marked a humiliating turn for the decorated four-star general who became the most revered commander of his generation over his role in the Iraq war.
But the plea deal will allow Petraeus to avoid a trial that would have cast an embarrassing light on details of his affair and his flouting of secrecy laws.
The misdemeanour charge carried potential jail time but the plea deal recommends two years of probation and a $40,000 fine.
According to the Justice Department, Petraeus acknowledged giving eight "black books" he kept as the commander in Afghanistan to his lover and biographer, Paula Broadwell. The five-by-eight inch notebooks were meant to serve as source material for her book about the general, "All In: The Education of General David Petraeus."
The notebooks included his daily schedule, classified notes, the identities of covert officers, details about US intelligence capabilities, code words, summaries of National Security Council sessions, and accounts of his meetings with President Barack Obama, according to court documents.
The black books contained "Top Secret" and "national defence information," it said.
An official Defence Department historian gathered up classified papers that Petraeus had collected while in uniform but Petraeus "never provided" the notebooks to the historian as required.
Instead, Petraeus kept the notebooks in a "rucksack," he told Broadwell in a conversation she recorded.
"They are highly classified, some of them. ... I mean there's code word stuff in there," the general tells her.
Petraeus later emailed Broadwell promising to give her the notebooks and personally delivered them to a residence where she was staying in Washington DC. He retrieved the black books a few days later and kept them at his home.
In October 2012, FBI agents questioned Petraeus at CIA headquarters while he was still director. The retired general told them he had never provided any secret information to Broadwell -- a lie that he acknowledged in his plea deal.
Passing the sensitive information to Broadwell and then keeping the notebooks at his home clearly violated his legal obligation to safeguard classified information, authorities said.
None of the classified information appeared in Broadwell's book, which was published by Penguin in 2012.