The FBI’s handling of the investigation that forced CIA Director David H. Petraeus to resign came under new scrutiny Wednesday as FBI Director Robert S. Mueller faced questions on Capitol Hill and President Obama alluded to lingering questions about the course of the inquiry.
In his first public comments on the controversy, Obama said he has seen no evidence that the scandal exposed classified information that might harm national security. But he stopped short of approving the FBI’s handling of the inquiries into the personal
e-mail communications of Petraeus and U.S. Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen.
The White House and Congress were kept in the dark about the probes until election night last week. When asked at a news conference whether he should have known sooner that his CIA chief’s personal transgressions had surfaced, Obama said he was “withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding General Petraeus came up. You know, we don’t have all the information yet.”
Obama’s remarks signaled that the administration is grappling with fundamental questions surrounding an investigation that has implicated the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, blindsided the president and still not determined whether classified material was mishandled.
Petraeus, a retired four-star general, resigned as CIA director last week after acknowledging an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Both are married.
Obama’s comments coincided with new disclosures that Broadwell had a significant quantity of classified material and that the FBI’s initial concern centered on how an anonymous sender of menacing e-mails knew so much about the official schedules of the CIA director and the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan. The anonymous e-mails eventually were traced to Broadwell.
CNN reported Thursday that Petraeus said in an interview with HLN’s Kyra Phillips that he had never given classified information to Broadwell and that his resignation had nothing to do with his upcoming testimony to Congress on an attack on a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya that killed four Americans.
According to CNN, “‘He insisted to me that he has never passed classified information to Paula Broadwell,’ Phillips said. ‘He said this has nothing to do with Benghazi, and he wants to testify. He will testify.’”
The messages were sent to Allen and Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite who cultivated close ties to Petraeus, Allen and other high-ranking military officers when they served at U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa. Allen is now under investigation by the Defense Department inspector general over the contents of hundreds of e-mails between him and Kelley.
The first message Allen received came in May from a sender using the alias “KelleyPatrol,” according to a person close to Kelley. The message made clear the sender knew that Allen was likely to see Kelley at an upcoming event at the residence of an ambassador in Washington and that he should stay away from her, according to the person.
Subsequent messages, also anonymous, were sent to Kelley and her husband, Scott. One of them asked whether Scott Kelley knew that his wife would be meeting Petraeus in Washington at an event scheduled for the next week, the person said.
“Clearly the person knew the comings and goings of General Allen and CIA Director Petraeus,” the person said. “There was concern that someone was stalking them electronically or physically and knew the comings and goings of fairly important people.”
In mid-June, Kelley called an FBI agent she had met and told him about the e-mails. He took copies to the bureau’s Tampa office because the material showed that the sender had detailed knowledge of the travel schedules of Petraeus and Allen and because Kelley expressed concern for her safety.
The agent was identified Wednesday as Frederick Humphries, 47, who knew Kelley from a visit to her house on an unrelated case years earlier, according to law enforcement officials. Humphries was not assigned to the harassment case, but he later became frustrated about what he thought was a lagging investigation of a possible national security breach.
In late October, Humphries raised his concerns with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and Cantor’s chief of staff telephoned the FBI director’s chief of staff. After the call, the Justice Department disclosed the existence of the investigation of Petraeus to James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, on Nov. 6. Clapper told the White House the next day, and Petraeus resigned last Friday.
The FBI’s last interview with Petraeus occurred Oct. 31, and Justice Department officials have argued that they could not disclose the existence of the investigation until it was concluded.
While the law enforcement officials said the FBI did not initially believe the case raised national security concerns, officials and others told The Washington Post that Broadwell had access to the schedules of high-level officials and other information that was stamped “secret.”
A former colleague of Broadwell’s described receiving a computer disc from her several months ago that contained material marked “secret” and included both personal schedules and PowerPoint presentations.
Broadwell’s possession and handling of such information is at the center of the FBI probe. U.S. law enforcement officials said they found a “significant amount” of classified files on Broadwell’s personal computer. They also removed boxes of evidence from her home in North Carolina in a search Monday night.
Broadwell and Petraeus both told investigators that he did not provide classified materials to her during her research for his biography. Although Broadwell previously held a security clearance, an Army spokesman indicated Wednesday that her clearance has been suspended in light of the recent disclosures.
In his news conference, Obama said, “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.” His words appeared to be chosen to not rule out the mishandling of classified files.
A person close to Kelley said that investigators have found Broadwell had at least four e-mail accounts under aliases, including “KelleyPatrol,” “Tampa,” and the name of another U.S. city. Broadwell avoided using her home computer, sending the messages from cybercafes and other public locations, according to the person close to Kelley and U.S. law enforcement officials.
Allen, formerly the chief of the U.S. Central Command, has said through associates that he did not have a physical relationship with Kelley or commit any wrongdoing in his e-mail communications with her.
But Allen is now the focus of an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general, based on thousands of pages of transcripts of e-mail, many between Allen and Kelley, that were turned over to the Pentagon by the FBI. His military lawyer said Wednesday that Allen intends to cooperate fully with the inquiry.
The Pentagon said on Wednesday that officials at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa have revoked Kelley’s badge, which granted her the same access as relatives of service members and retirees.
Kelley had created an unofficial role as a prominent social figure at MacDill, throwing lavish parties for high-ranking officers and forging close ties to the Petraeus family.
At his news conference, Obama praised Petraeus for his record as a war commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as director of the CIA, a job he held for 14 months before stepping down on Friday.
Petraeus “served this country with great distinction,” Obama said. “My main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”
Obama also said that he has “a lot of confidence generally in the FBI,” even while stopping short of voicing approval for its handling of the Petraeus investigation.
Mueller and FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce appeared in a closed session on Wednesday before the Senate intelligence committee, facing questions for the first time from lawmakers on key points in the Petraeus case that have become sources of controversy.
Among them are the FBI’s decision to expand what began as a low-level inquiry into alleged
e-mail harassment involving private citizens, leading to sustained scrutiny of the private communications of top national security officials. Even after Petraeus and Allen had become ensnared in the investigation, the FBI appears to have waited months before notifying the White House or Congress.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman of the committee, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the ranking Republican, issued a statement after the session saying that Mueller and Joyce “answered our questions.” They added: “Because this is an ongoing FBI investigation, we will have no further comment.”
The FBI is preparing a timeline for lawmakers on its conduct and decisions during the case, officials said
Obama said that his “expectation” is that the FBI followed protocols on when to disclose the findings of the probe and that informing the White House earlier might have invited criticism that the administration had interfered in a criminal investigation.
Kimberly Kindy, Carol D. Leonnig and Julie Tate contributed to this report.