Stream of new revelations in fall of US spy chief Petraeus
One of fallen CIA chief David Petraeus’ senior colleagues in President Barack Obama’s administration on Monday welcomed his resignation, as new revelations about his sex scandal surfaced by the hour.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, himself a former head of the spy agency, said Petraeus had been right to resign as a matter of “personal integrity”, while Washington struggled to digest a steady stream of leaked allegations.
Petraeus resigned on Friday, just three days after Obama was re-elected president following a heated campaign in which the CIA faced questions about its handling of a deadly attack on a US consulate in Libya.
He had been due to testify to Congress this week on a September 11 assault on the US mission in Benghazi which left four officials dead, including US ambassador Chris Stevens and two former Navy Seals working for the CIA.
Despite the tense political environment, one of the retired four-star general’s closest associates – his former spokesman when the pair served in Iraq – said Petraeus does not believe he was the victim of a plot.
“My understanding from him is that there is no connection to Benghazi or anything else. He had a wonderful relationship with the White House,” retired US Army colonel Steve Boylan said.
Boylan said the 60-year-old Petraeus had warned his wife of 38 years, Holly, about his affair before the news broke and was trying to make amends.
“He regrets it on so many levels,” Boylan said. “He regrets the poor judgment and the lack of discipline more than we can probably put into words ... His words to me were ‘I screwed up’.”
For his part, Panetta, Petraeus’ predecessor and the most senior administration figure to yet speak out on the resignation, attempted to draw a line under the scandal.
“My heart obviously goes out to him and his family. But I think he took the right step,” he told reporters aboard a US military plane jet en route to Australia.
“I think it’s important when you’re director of the CIA, with all of the challenges that face you in that position, that personal integrity comes first and foremost.”
But this will not mark an end to the matter.
Released from election duty, the Washington press corps has seized on the scandal and its high and low intrigue – the Shakespearian fall from grace of the most celebrated officer of his time and the grubby details of his affair.
Petraeus took command of the CIA 14 months ago, retiring from the military after a glittering career that saw him lead the 101st Airborne, the US war in Iraq, its CentCom regional command and international forces in Afghanistan.
Two months after hanging up his uniform, according to Boylan, he started an affair with Paula Broadwell, a former army officer 20 years his junior who travelled with him in Afghanistan and has written a glowing biography of him.
Earlier this year, 37-year-old Jill Kelley, a Tampa socialite with close military ties who was a friend of the Petraeuses, complained to an FBI agent acquaintance that she had received threatening anonymous e-mails.
According to widely-reported leaks from US officials, FBI agents traced the e-mails back to Broadwell and, on scrutinising her online records, found a series of sexually explicit exchanges with Petraeus confirming their affair.
The pair was interviewed separately by investigators in late October and early November but, despite reports Broadwell was found to be in possession of some classified material, no criminal charges were brought.
The case might have rested there, but – according to a report in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal – the original FBI agent who was contacted by Kelley brought the matter to the attention of Republican lawmakers.
They in turn contacted the FBI and, on Thursday last week Petraeus submitted his resignation to Obama. It was accepted on Friday.
Meanwhile, the FBI investigation itself has come under scrutiny.
According to the Wall Street Journal, supervisors pulled the whistleblower FBI agent off the case after he became “obsessed” with the matter and was caught sending Kelley shirtless photos of himself.
US lawmakers already planned hearings into the Benghazi debacle and claims the four US victims were denied sufficient protection because of confusion between CIA and State Department leaders over security responsibility.
Now they also want to know why the FBI and Justice Department did not inform them nor the White House about Petraeus’ affair until last week until the spy chief’s sudden departure and public admission of guilt.
The scandal has also left Obama with a hole to fill on his national security team at a time when he is also expected to be replacing his secretaries of state, defence and treasury.
One name being floated as a possible Petraeus replacement is John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism adviser and a CIA veteran. Others say Michael Morell, the agency’s acting director, may take on the role.