US Politics

Fall of Petraeus leaves host of questions

Politicians are lining up to grill the FBI and CIA over who knew what and when about the scandal that felled CIA chief David Petraeus

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2012, 2:56am

The dramatic downfall of CIA chief David Petraeus has given rise to political intrigue in Washington with a drip-feed of details concerning his illicit affair, accompanied by serious questions over the timing of his resignation.

It emerged over the weekend that his relationship with biographer Paula Broadwell was discovered by FBI agents when they investigated emails amounting to harassment allegedly sent by Broadwell to a second woman, who is a friend of the Patraeus family.

High-level officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department had known about Petraeus's affair since late summer, but did not notify anybody outside of the agencies until last week, government officials said.

Intelligence officials have suggested that Petraeus was first questioned over the nature of his relationship with Broadwell a fortnight ago. But it was only on the night of the presidential election that the national intelligence director, James Clapper, was notified of the affair. It is thought that Clapper then advised the CIA chief to resign.

The White House was informed one day later and another day passed before the newly re-elected President Barack Obama was told that his intelligence chief was to tender his resignation. Yesterday's reports that a leading House Republican, Eric Cantor, had been told by an FBI whistleblower of the brewing Petraeus scandal two weeks ago raise the prospect that there was some knowledge of the affair in Washington circles before Friday.

The questions is likely to be raised today in Washington when senior FBI and CIA officials are set to brief top politicians

Officials, however, said that the timing of notifications had nothing to do with the election, saying that there was no obvious political advantage for either Obama or Mitt Romney in the news that the CIA director had had an affair; Petraeus is highly regarded by both Republicans and Democrats. They also said that Cantor's call to the FBI on October 31 had not accelerated or influenced the investigation.

FBI and Justice Department officials knew their handling of the case would ultimately receive immense scrutiny and took significant time to determine whom they were legally required to inform, according to a senior law enforcement official.

"This was very thought-through," the official said.

But some members of Congress have protested at the delay in being notified of the FBI's investigation of Petraeus until just after the presidential election.

A leading Republican has questioned why, if there were serious concerns about comprised intelligence, it had taken several months for the FBI to finally notify the Obama administration.

"It just doesn't add up," said Peter King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. "I have real questions about this. I think a timeline has to be looked at and analysed to see what happened."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said that her committee would "absolutely" demand an explanation.

An FBI case involving the CIA director "could have had an effect on national security," she said. "I think we should have been told."

But the bureau's history would make the privacy question especially significant; in his decades-long reign as the FBI's first director, J. Edgar Hoover sometimes directed agents to spy improperly on the sex lives of public figures and then used the resulting information to put pressure on or blackmail them.

Law enforcement officials defended the FBI's handling of the case. "There are a lot of sensitivities in a case like this," a senior law enforcement official said. "There were hints of possible intelligence and security issues, but they were unproven. You constantly ask yourself, 'What are the notification requirements? What are the privacy issues?"'

Republicans have also pointed to the fact that Petraeus was days away from testifying about the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya as evidence of some kind of conspiracy.

Petraeus had been due to testify on Thursday about the Benghazi attacks that killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The CIA deputy director, Michael Morell, now acting director, will testify in his place.

The stunning departure of Petraeus has left Obama with an added headache as he begins his second term.

The president will probably have to replace not only departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but also Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

The New York Times, The Guardian, Agence France-Presse


Timeline: Petraeus' road to ruin

Spring 2006: Paula Broadwell meets David Petraeus at a Harvard University function.

2008: Broadwell decides to pursue a doctorate in public policy and conduct a case study on Petraeus' leadership. Petraeus invites her to go on a run in Washington.

2010: Petraeus is put in charge of the war in Afghanistan and Broadwell would visit and observe him there.

August 2011: Petraeus retires after nearly four decades in the US Army.

Sept. 6, 2011: Petraeus sworn in as CIA director.

January 2012: Biography of Petraeus co-authored by Broadwell, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, is published.

2011-2012: Broadwell and Petraeus affair started after he left military service and ended about four months ago. Sometime within the past four or five months - one official said "early summer" - a woman complained to the FBI about harassing e-mails that were later determined to have been written by Broadwell. In the course of investigating that complaint, the FBI discovered an affair between Broadwell and Petraeus.

Week of Oct 21: Federal investigators interview Broadwell.

Week of Oct 28: Federal investigators interview Petraeus. Prosecutors conclude afterward they likely will not bring criminal charges.

Tuesday, Nov 6, Election Day, at about 5pm: the FBI notifies Director of National Intelligence James Clapper about Petraeus. Clapper speaks to Petraeus that evening and again on Wednesday and advises him to step down.

Wednesday, Nov 7: Clapper informs White House National Security Council official that Petraeus may resign and President Barack Obama should be informed. The president is told about it later that day.

Thursday, Nov 8: At 11am, a Petraeus meeting with foreign dignitaries scheduled for 2.30pm is cancelled and his visitors are informed he has to go to the White House to meet Obama. Petraeus offers his resignation, explaining the circumstances behind it. Obama did not immediately accept the resignation.

Friday, Nov 9: Obama calls Petraeus and accepts his resignation.