Obama responds warily to Petraeus sex scandal, FBI probe
FILE POOL - In this July 9, 2011 file photo, USMC Gen. John Allen, left, and Army Gen. David Petraeus, top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and incoming CIA Director, greet former CIA Director and new U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, right, as he lands in Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, July 9, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul J. Richards, Pool)
FILE- In this March 26, 2012, file photo, Marine Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan listens during a news conference at the Pentagon. When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pointedly warned young troops last spring to mind their ways, he may have been lecturing the wrong audience. The culture of military misconduct starts at the top. At least five current and former U.S. general officers have been reprimanded or investigated for possible misconduct in the past two weeks _ a startling run of embarrassment for a military whose stock among Americans rose so high during a decade of war that its leaders seemed almost untouchable. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari, File)
President Barack Obama answers a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Paula Broadwell is visible through the window in the kitchen of her brother's house in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. Broadwell is CIA Director David Petraeus' biographer, with whom he had an affair that led to his abrupt resignation last Friday. It was Broadwell's threatening emails to Jill Kelley, a Florida woman who is a Petraeus family friend, that led to the FBI's discovery of communications between Broadwell and Petraeus indicating they were having an affair. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Sen. Susan M. Collins, R-Maine, ranking Republican on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, arrives for a closed briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012. Earlier, Collins said it was "absolutely imperative" that former CIA Director David Petraeus testify, since he was CIA director during the attack and visited Libya afterward. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
FILE - This Feb. 2, 2012 file photo shows CIA Director David Petraeus testifying on Capitol Hill in Washington. When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pointedly warned young troops last spring to mind their ways, he may have been lecturing the wrong audience. The culture of military misconduct starts at the top. At least five current and former U.S. general officers have been reprimanded or investigated for possible misconduct in the past two weeks _ a startling run of embarrassment for a military whose stock among Americans rose so high during a decade of war that its leaders seemed almost untouchable. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)
Jill Kelley leaves her home Tuesday, Nov 13, 2012 in Tampa, Fla. Kelley is identified as the woman who allegedly received harassing emails from Gen. David Petraeus' paramour, Paula Broadwell. She serves as an unpaid social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military's Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Responding warily to his administration’s sudden sex scandal, President Obama said yesterday he’s seen no evidence that national security was damaged by the revelations that ended his CIA director’s career and imperil that of his Afghan war commander.
But the president said he is reserving judgment about how the FBI has handled the investigation that began in the summer but didn’t reach his desk until after last week’s election.
“I have a lot of confidence, generally, in the FBI,” Obama said, qualifying his words of support for the agency and its actions in the case.
As Obama spoke about the scandal from the White House, legislators on Capitol Hill were grilling FBI and CIA officials privately about the same issues: whether national security was jeopardized by the case and why they didn’t know about the investigation sooner.
“I have no evidence at this point, from what I’ve seen, that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security,” Obama said at his first postelection news conference.
As for the FBI’s handling of the matter, Obama said: “My expectation is that they follow the protocols that they’ve already established. One of the challenges here is that we’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations, and that’s been our practice.”
Federal law enforcement officials have said the FBI didn’t inform the White House and Congress sooner about the original investigation because of rules set up after the Watergate scandal to prevent interference in criminal investigations, and that lawmakers weren’t given notice of potential national security problems because the bureau had quickly resolved them.
CIA Director David Petraeus resigned Friday, two days after the White House was notified that he’d acknowledged having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
The FBI’s investigation of the matter began last summer, after Broadwell allegedly sent harassing, anonymous emails to a woman she apparently saw as a rival for Petraeus’s affections. That woman, Florida socialite Jill Kelley, in turn had traded sometimes-flirtatious messages with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen.
Kelley’s complaints about the threatening emails triggered the FBI investigation that led to the resignation of Petraeus and the inquiry into her communications with Allen.
A lawyer for Allen released a statement promising the general would cooperate fully with the Defense Department inspector general’s investigation.
“To the extent that there are questions about certain communications by Gen. Allen, he shares in the desire to resolve those questions as completely and quickly as possible,” said Col. John Baker, chief defense counsel of the Marine Corps. Allen has denied any wrongdoing.
New details about the early chronology of the case emerged:
The first anonymous email, which the FBI ultimately traced to Broadwell, was sent in May to Allen, not Kelley. It warned Allen about his upcoming meeting with Kelley and suggested she would harm his reputation, a person close to Kelley told the Associated Press yesterday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the FBI investigation was continuing.
Starting about two weeks later, in early June, Kelley herself received the first of as many as five emails sent from different anonymous accounts alleging that she was up to no good, the person said. One of those mentioned Petraeus by name. By the end of June or early July, Kelley contacted an FBI agent in Tampa, Fla., she had met years earlier, which began the agency’s investigation of the matter.
Officials who have seen the communications between Allen and Kelley yesterday described some of the emails as “suggestive,” and said their release would be embarrassing for the general. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
With Broadwell and Kelley suddenly in the center of the storm, small details suddenly became topics for discussion.
Word surfaced yesterday that Kelley’s pass to enter MacDill Air Force Base in Florida had been indefinitely suspended, a decision made at the base level. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Warren said Kelley still can enter the base but must report to the visitor center and sign in like others without a pass.
Separately, a U.S. official said the Army has suspended Broadwell’s security clearance. As a former Army intelligence officer, she held a high security clearance. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Broadwell admitted to the FBI that she had taken classified documents out of secure government buildings, and there were substantial amounts of classified documents on her computer, according to a federal law enforcement official, who also was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
The FBI also found classified documents in the search of Broadwell’s house earlier this week, the official said. Broadwell had agreed to the search and had told agents in advance that there would be some there.
Broadwell, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., was spotted in Washington at her brother’s home late Tuesday. Her listing in her high school yearbook in Bismarck, N.D., as “most likely to be remembered” took on new meaning.
FBI Director Robert Mueller and Deputy Director Sean Joyce met privately with legislators on both sides of the Capitol yesterday to explain how the investigation unfolded.