By Jonathan S. Landay, Franco Ordonez And Hannah Allam, McClatchy Newspapers –
WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert Mueller’s top aide was told former CIA chief David Petraeus was having an extramarital affair that might have compromised national security a week before the Nov. 6 elections, a congressional official said Monday.
The disclosure raises fresh questions about why the FBI leadership withheld the information from the nation’s top intelligence official and the congressional committees that oversee the U.S. intelligence community until after President Barack Obama won re-election.
Had the affair that forced Petraeus’ startling resignation on Friday become public earlier, it might have stoked a political outcry already flaring over the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, two CIA contractors and a State Department staffer in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, by suspected Islamist extremists.
New details emerged Monday of the affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, whose allegedly threatening emails to another of the former four-star Army general’s friends triggered the FBI investigation that uncovered their relationship.
Petraeus, 60, and Broadwell, 40, began their affair about two months after he became CIA director in September 2011, and they had agreed to end it about four months ago, said retired Army Col. Steve Boylan, a former Petraeus aide who is acting as his unofficial spokesman.
“There weren’t a lot of meetings,” Boylan told McClatchy Newspapers. “Based on what I understand, it was a mutually agreed upon realization that this was something they shouldn’t be doing.”
Petraeus was informed of the FBI investigation at, or just before, the beginning of November, and told his wife of 38 years, Holly, just before he sent a statement to the CIA workforce on Friday, admitting to adultery and announcing that he was resigning, said Boylan.
“They are a very strong family. He has done a pretty bad thing and hurt them deeply,” he said. “But given time and space, they can get through it.”
Boylan denied that Petraeus ever passed classified information to Broadwell.
“The two were separate,” he said. “One was his private life. One was his professional career, which came to an end on Friday, at least for now.”
Broadwell, a West Point graduate and Army reservist who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is married with two children.
The FBI investigation that uncovered the affair started during the summer after a woman identified as Jill Kelley, of Tampa, Fla., complained to an FBI agent, who also is a personal friend, about what she considered threatening emails from an anonymous sender. The emails reportedly accused Kelley, who became friends with Petraeus and his wife while the general served as head of the Tampa-based U.S. Central Command, of improper behavior with Petraeus.
The sender was eventually identified as Broadwell by FBI investigators, who found emails in her inbox that led them to conclude that she was having an affair with Petraeus. An FBI spokesman on Friday emphasized that Petraeus is not the target of any criminal probe or charges.
It remained unclear on Monday at what point Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Mueller were officially notified by their subordinates of the investigation’s findings.
A spokesman for the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that an FBI whistleblower informed the lawmaker by telephone on Oct. 27 of an affair involving Petraeus.
The whistleblower “warned that national security or classified information may be compromised as a result of an extramarital affair on behalf of David Petraeus,” Cantor’s spokesman, Rory Cooper, told McClatchy Newspapers.
Cantor and his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, decided the following day to contact Mueller’s office. Hurricane Sandy, however, struck that evening, shutting down Washington and forcing them to delay the call until Oct. 31, when Stombres spoke to Mueller’s chief of staff, Aaron Zebley, and “gives everything he’s got,” Cooper said.
The FBI called back the following day and told Stombres that it couldn’t confirm or deny the investigation that uncovered the affair, but emphasized that national security and classified information were top priorities for the bureau.
It was “a very formulaic answer,” said Cooper.
FBI spokesmen didn’t immediately respond to emailed questions about whether Zebley informed Mueller of Stombres’ call, or when Mueller first learned of Petraeus’ affair or the investigation that uncovered it.
The New York Times on Monday reported that the FBI didn’t conclude that Petraeus hadn’t committed a crime until after interviewing Broadwell for a second time on Nov. 2. Bureau officials then informed Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who oversees the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, of the affair about 5 p.m. on Election Day.
Clapper asked Petraeus on the following day to resign. The former general submitted his resignation on Thursday to Obama, who took until the following day to accept it.
Asked why Petraeus resigned when the FBI probe found no evidence that he had broken the law, Boylan replied, “He felt that based on his personal beliefs and his own ethics and values, he could not lead an organization with this having occurred. He felt the right thing was to step down.”
Numerous questions, however, remained unanswered. They included whether CIA staff working close to Petraeus were aware of the affair.
As the nation’s top spy, Petraeus was one of the most closely protected senior U.S. officials. A security team guards him around the clock, manning a command center at his home, said a former senior intelligence official, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely. On overseas trips, the team stays in the rooms on either side of the director’s room and keeps his door under constant surveillance.
“They’d know who was going into the room, but they wouldn’t know what was going on behind the closed door,” he said.