Robbing headlines from the selection of a president for the next four years would seem a tall order, but CIA Director David Petraeus has managed to do just that.
Even as some of the votes from last week’s national elections were still being counted, the talk of the nation’s capital turned from President Obama’s sweeping electoral triumph over Mitt Romney to another sex scandal at high levels of government.
This time, it is the nation’s spymaster upended by a sex scandal.
Details — and questions — were still emerging Sunday following the disclosure that Petraeus, 60, one of the nation’s most celebrated military generals, told the president he would resign after acknowledging an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, 40, a West Point graduate who spent time with him in Afghanistan starting in 2010.
Congressional leaders, including those overseeing intelligence, professed shock at the developments and dismay that the administration did not alert them sooner that Petraeus was linked to an FBI inquiry.
“We received no advance notice,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Fox News Sunday.
“It was like a lightning bolt.”
At the heart of their concern: whether national security was compromised by the relationship. But there were other big questions as well, led by the mystery surrounding a second woman to emerge in the investigation.
Jill Kelley, 37, of Tampa has been identified as the woman who prompted the broader investigation into harassing e-mails that led to Broadwell, and ultimately, to Petraeus, a federal law enforcement official said. The official, who has been briefed on the matter, was not authorized to comment publicly.
Kelley serves as a social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where the military’s Central Command and Special Operations Command are located. Jill Kelley and her husband, Scott, hired Washington, D.C.-based crisis manager Judy Smith and attorney Abbe Lowell.
Smith issued a statement on behalf of the family late Sunday: “We and our family have been friends with General Petraeus and his family for over 5 years. We respect his and his family’s privacy and want the same for us and our three children.”
The Petraeus drama unfolded as the CIA was being put on the griddle in Senate and House hearings this week as it investigates the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three of the spy agency’s employees were killed Sept. 11 this year.
His resignation adds to the embarrassment of the CIA, already reeling from the Libya violence, and fueled more questions from Congress about the agency.
Lawmakers said it’s possible that Petraeus will still be asked to appear on Capitol Hill to testify about what he knew about the U.S. response to that incident.
The White House on Sunday declined to comment on the timing of the Petraeus disclosure, but Feinstein said that his resignation had nothing to do with the Benghazi controversy.
“Absolutely not,” Feinstein said.
Meanwhile, Kelley first reported receiving harassing e-mails in the late spring to early summer, the law enforcement official said. The allegation triggered a broader inquiry when the FBI examined a trove of electronic communications, which allegedly pointed to Broadwell and the relationship with the CIA director.
Republicans are already saying the investigation smacks of a pre-election coverup by the White House.
“It seems this (the investigation) has been going on for several months and, yet, now it appears that they’re saying that the FBI didn’t realize until Election Day that Gen. Petraeus was involved. It just doesn’t add up,” said Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
King’s assertions, however were disputed by a federal law enforcement official, who said that agents briefed Petraeus on their findings about two weeks before Election Day. The official added that the White House first learned of the investigation last week.
Petraeus’ affair with Broadwell will be the subject of meetings Wednesday involving congressional intelligence committee leaders, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell.
A GOP House member reported receiving a tip on Oct. 27 that the probe was underway. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to speak with an FBI source regarding Petraeus. Cantor spoke to the source the same day. Cantor instructed his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, to alert the FBI director’s office about the conversation.
Cantor aide Stombres spoke with the FBI director’s office on Oct. 31, barely a week before the election. Cantor spokesman Doug Heye said the time lag was because the federal government was closed for two days due to Superstorm Sandy hitting the Northeast. After Stombres spoke with the FBI, “That was the end of our involvement,” Heye said.
Petraeus has been married 38 years to Holly Petraeus, with whom he has two adult children, including a son who led an infantry platoon in Afghanistan as an Army lieutenant. Broadwell, an Army Reserve officer, is married with two young sons. She has not responded to requests for comment.
Feinstein said there is no evidence to suggest there was a security breach.
“Absolutely not,” she said, responding to a question about a possible link to the embassy attack.
Kelley, who is married to cancer surgeon Scott Kelley and has three daughters, hosts frequent parties at her home, and newspaper accounts indicate Petraeus and his wife, Holly, have attended.
The Tampa Bay Times reported in its Feb. 5, 2010, society column that Holly and David Petraeus celebrated Tampa’s Gasparilla Festival at Jill and Scott Kelley’s million-dollar Bayshore home.
“Gen. David Petraeus absorbed his first Gasparilla under a white tent on Jill and Scott Kelley’s front lawn,” the newspaper wrote. “The CentCom commander and his wife, Holly, arrived with a 28-cop motorcycle escort.”
Kelley, who grew up in Philadelphia, is of Lebanese descent. Her family, Maronite Catholics, immigrated from Jounieh, Lebanon in the mid-1970s, according to a 1988 article about her family’s restaurant, Sahara, in The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has a twin sister, the article said.
The FBl investigation that prompted the Petraeus’ resignation represents another tense chapter in the relationship between the two agencies.
But some analysts believe the latest episode is not likely to significantly alter it.
“Because of Petraeus’ stature and the unusual circumstances here, I know the FBI took no joy in bringing this forward,” said Chris Swecker, a former assistant FBI director.
As for the agency’s overall reputation, Swecker said the most recent incident will not affect the CIA’s operations.
“The reality is that there is always going to be controversy swirling around the CIA,” Swecker said. “That’s just the nature of the agency.”
Petraeus gained worldwide attention as he replaced Gen. Stanley McChrystal, ousted over remarks about the president, as head of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. He later was appointed by Obama to head the CIA.
A retired military officer, who asked not to be identified, said Petraeus surrounded himself with a group of academics and think tankers, and that Broadwell showed up in that context, clearly anointed by the general as his official biographer.
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