A Recap of the Petraeus Scandal

It’s only been a week since the news broke, but what a week.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

David Petraeus. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s hard to believe it was only one week ago when we first heard that David Petraeus would resign as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Grey Lady ran this headline—“Petraeus Quits; Evidence of Affair Was Found by FBI”—rather colorless given what would eventually spill out about Petraeus and his costars in the emerging scandal. The first known costar was his wife of 37-plus years, Holly. “I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” Petraeus wrote in his farewell letter to CIA staff.

As the story broke on Friday, we would later learn, the woman with whom he had the affair, his biographer Paula Broadwell, was out in bucolic Rappahannock County, Virginia, having a presumably romantic getaway weekend with her doctor husband, Scott, the day before her 40th birthday. They stayed at the cozy Middleton Inn and dined at the lush Inn at Little Washington. They took long bike rides and hikes and then, boom, the mood changed. Scott, we were told, was not talkative at Saturday morning breakfast. They didn’t return home to Charlotte, North Carolina, but came instead to Washington, which, we would later learn, is the home of Paula’s brother, who lives in Mount Pleasant. In time she would be photographed through the window, sipping wine, and her driver’s license would be found in Rock Creek Park.

At this point the scandal was in the lower gears, where it stayed for much of the weekend. It didn’t begin to shift to the higher ranges until the beginning of the week, when a new costar entered the saga. Jill Kelley was identified as a Tampa woman who had received “harassing” e-mails from Broadwell due to her friendship with Petraeus, and in the summer she passed the e-mails on to a friend at the FBI, who contacted a member of Congress, who contacted House majority leader Eric Cantor, who contacted the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller. The FBI investigation unearthed the affair, and supposedly Petraeus and Broadwell were informed that their secret wasn’t a secret anymore. But nobody told the White House, we were told, until after the election.

Paula Broadwell—with her West Point and Harvard pedigree, her military service, her security clearance, and the fact that she is a wife and mother—was a sensational enough femme fatale for any scandal. Kelley vamped onstage as the other other woman, though she was not linked romantically to Petraeus. We were told she was a “social liaison” for the Joint Special Operations Command, headquartered in Tampa—in other words, a hostess who entertained the top brass, which was how she became friends with Petraeus and his wife. Like something out of a Real Housewives shooting script, though, just as soon as Kelley hit center stage, the dirty laundry came out from every possible hiding place. Stories circulated that she was a “social climber” who was in a cat fight with Broadwell, that she and her husband lived beyond their means, that their home was in foreclosure. She was called the female Tareq Salahi, the infamous White House “gatecrasher” who was given to overplaying his hand.

By Tuesday it seemed the scandal couldn’t get any richer, and then it did. New characters entered the scenario. We were told the FBI agent who Kelley had contacted also had earlier sent her shirtless photos of himself. There were rumors that he had the hots for her, that he had a political agenda. Kelley didn’t like reporters staking out her home and called the police for “diplomatic protection.” Just like that, a 911 recording was released, with Kelley saying: “I’m an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property.” She didn’t get the police protection, and MacDill Air Force Base, where JSOC is located, revoked the pass that allowed her to drive in its gates.

Of course, after everything we heard about Jill Kelley, it was logical to think, “Well, this story has probably run its course.” But no—there was still more to come. It was announced that General John Allen, who succeeded Petraeus as head of the military command in Afghanistan, was under investigation for exchanging “inappropriate” e-mails with Kelley, who was described as a close friend. The printout of the correspondence reportedly amounted to perhaps 20,000 pages. Rumors flew that the content read like “phone sex,” though that was never confirmed. Rather quickly, President Obama put on hold Allen’s nomination as Supreme Allied Command for Europe.

By Wednesday we learned that the “shirtless” FBI agent was Fred Humphries, described as a hard-charging G-man with a reputation for sending silly e-mails, including the shirtless one he sent to Kelley of himself posed with some target dummies after shooting practice. He was also described as “obsessed” with the e-mails that were sent to Kelley by Broadwell.

Thursday into Friday the attention returned to Petraeus, who was scheduled to give secret testimony Friday morning before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Which he did, but the only mention of the scandal was his apology to the committee members for the affair that started the whole mess. Otherwise, the subject was Benghazi. Remember Benghazi?

We’re grateful to the Tampa Bay Times for finding the story that puts the perfect exclamation mark to the end of this week. The paper got hold of an e-mail Kelley sent to Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn at 6:18 AM Wednesday, after her claims of “involubility” didn’t score her any diplomatic protection from the media staked out at her house. She wanted Tampa authorities to do something.

It begins, “Dear Mayor Bob,” and then claims that she, Petraeus, and Allen are the victims of media exploitation, that she couldn’t send her children to school, and that her husband was having to sleep at the hospital. “I wouldn’t care—if they [the media] got the facts right, and the focus was on the criminal that stalked all of us. But the truth will one day prevail. To put insult to injury, your police dept gave the local 911 tapes to the press! I’m scared and cannot believe what my city—in which I have contributed so much of my love, time, money and leadership, has now done to me and my innocent family.”

“Asked Thursday if he did anything in response to Kelley’s complaint, Buckhorn said ‘no,’” the newspaper reported. As to the release of Kelley’s phone calls to the Tampa Bay police, he said, “public record.”