Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Six key questions in the David Petraeus affair

Leaders of congressional intelligence committees want to know more about the FBI investigation that led to David Petraeus resignation as CIA Director.


The abrupt resignation of the CIA director David Petraeus will continue to dominate Washington, D.C. throughout the week.

On Wednesday, the FBI and CIA meet with congressional leaders who head the various intelligence committees. Their focus: the handling of the investigation in to the extramarital affair that resulted in Mr. Petraeus abruptly resigning last week, and why politicians were kept in the dark.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate and House will hold hearings in to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador. Mr. Petraeus was due to testify at that hearing – but instead, it will be the CIA deputy director in the hot seat.

Story continues below advertisement

Keeping track of the swirl of information emerging is no easy task. Here are six key questions to keep in mind during a week when the Petraeus affair will be the focus.

How did the FBI get involved?

We now know the identity of the second woman, who was the subject of harassing e-mails from an account that the FBI traced back to 40-year-old Paula Broadwell – a graduate of West Point, a reserve officer, a married mother of two boys and the co-author of a biography of one of America's most celebrated military leaders.

Jill Kelley, 37, and her husband were family friends of the Petraeus family when Mr. Petraeus was stationed in Tampa, Florida, as head of U.S. Central Command from 2008 until 2010. Beyond that, there is no suggestion of an improper relationship between Mr. Patraeus and Ms. Kelley, who was involved in planning social activities at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

The contents of the e-mails sent to Ms. Kelley by Ms. Broadwell are not entirely clear. But they would have included some mention of Ms. Kelley's friendship with Mr. Petraeus – a friendship that reportedly threatened Ms. Broadwell. According to the New York Times, about half a dozen e– mails sent by Ms. Broadwell accused Ms. Kelley of inappropriate flirtatious behavior.

Disturbed by the e-mail messages, Ms. Kelley approached an FBI agent who is also a friend, reports the New York Times. But politicians will want to know more about how the complaint landed on the FBI's desk and where it went from there.

When did the affair begin?

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Petraeus was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan and was responsible for overseeing the success of a 30,000-troops surge in 2010. During the tenure, Ms. Broadwell made several trips to Afghanistan to interview Mr. Petraeus.

If it turns out that the extramarital affair began while Mr. Petraeus was still serving in the military, he would be in violation of the U.S. military code which punishes any behaviour "of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces."

But the latest timeline of the extramarital affair, as outlined by a Petraeus friend and former top aide, on ABC's Good Morning America, suggests that the relationship began two months after Mr. Petraeus became CIA director in September 2011. The former aide, Steve Boylan, said the affair ended four months ago.

When did politicians and President Barack Obama find out?

"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 Mr. Petraeus was involved. It just doesn't add up," said Pete King, Republican congressman and chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, during a CNN interview over the weekend.

Politicians are openly questioning the timing of the resignation – so soon after the presidential election and ahead of key congressional hearings in to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi. Cover-up is a word being used by conservative activists on social media.

Story continues below advertisement

First, here is the widely reported timeline about how events unfolded last week. On Tuesday, election day: the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, was notified at 5 p.m. He called Mr. Petraeus on the same evening. Either during that conversation or subsequent conversations, Mr. Clapper, advised that Mr. Petraeus resign. On Wednesday: Mr. Clapper informed the White House. On Thursday: President Barack Obama was notified and Mr. Petraeus paid a visit to the White House to submit his resignation. On Friday: President Obama accepted the resignation. The news broke Friday afternoon.

"It was like a bolt of lightning," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat and head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, during a Fox News Sunday interview.

But two key officials did know of the investigation: U.S. House Majority leader and Republican Eric Cantor, who received a tip about the investigation on Oct. 27; and U.S. Attorney-General Eric Holder, who, according to the Wall Street Journal , knew of the investigation and the e-mail link to Mr. Petraeus during late summer.

Congressional politicians argue that in matters relating to alleged security breaches, the Obama administration should have notified politicians sooner.

Was there a security breach?

In the initial swirl of information, the suggestion was that law enforcement authorities were mainly concerned about any leaks in classified information through the private e-mail of Mr. Petraeus.

We now know much more about the private e-mail accounts where the FBI learned of the extramarital affair after monitoring Ms. Broadwell's e-mail account, which was the source of original e-mails and the complaint.

"[The FBI and federal prosecutors] learned that Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Petraeus had set up private Gmail accounts to use for their communications, which included explicit details of a sexual nature, according to U.S. officials. But because Mr. Petraeus used a pseudonym, agents doing the monitoring didn't immediately uncover that he was the one communicating with Ms. Broadwell," reports the Wall Street Journal.

Law enforcement officials examined allegations of security and classified information breaches – but according to one law enforcement account shared with the New York Times , the allegations were unproven.

The question that politicians will want an answer to is when exactly did law enforcement officials rule out a security breach.

Did Paula Broadwell know things she shouldn't have otherwise known about the CIA?

In a video of Ms. Broadwell from a speech she gave at the University of Denver on Oct. 26, the 40-year-old former military intelligence officer can be seen talking about the Benghazi attack on the U.S. Consulate on the anniversary of Sept.11.

Ms. Broadwell shares information that suggest the attack was carried out to retrieve Libyan militia fighters who were being held at the U.S. Consulate. She says the information is still being "vetted." But the impression Ms. Broadwell leaves is that the theory is shared by Mr. Petraeus himself – leaving many to wonder whether Mr. Petraeus was, in fact, the source, as pointed out by the Washington Post .

Law enforcement officials did find classified documents on Ms. Broadwell's computer. But during interviews with both Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Petraeus – both denied that the documents came from the retired general. As the Wall Street Journal points out , officials did not say what those documents contained or who provided them to Ms. Broadwell. Possession of those documents has not resulted in any criminal charges so far.

Is this the last we have seen of David Petraeus?

No way. Already, Congressional politicians are saying that Mr. Petraeus will have to testify at some point – even if it isn't this week.

"I don't see how in the world you can find out what happened in Benghazi before, during and after the attack if General Petraeus doesn't testify," said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, during a CBS "Face the Nation" interview.

Mr. Petraeus, as CIA director, visited Libya in late October and was of the opinion that – based on video surveillance – there was some support of the initial view of the Obama administration that the consulate attack was spontaneous and not a planned terrorist attack.

The Obama administration's handling of the Benghazi attack became a focus of the presidential campaign as Republicans questioned the mixed messages from the White House and made allegations of a cover-up.

Getting to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi will likely require Mr. Petraeus to answer some tough questions.

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author

Affan Chowdhry is the Globe's multimedia reporter specializing in foreign news. Prior to joining the Globe, he worked at the BBC World Service in London creating international news and current affairs programs and online content for a global audience. More


The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨