Obama responds warily to sex scandal, FBI probe
Thursday, November 15, 2012
WASHINGTON (AP) — Responding warily to his administration’s sudden sex scandal, President Barack Obama said Wednesday he’s seen no evidence that national security was damaged by the revelations that ended his CIA director’s career and imperil that of his Afghan war commander.
But the president said he is reserving judgment about how the FBI has handled the investigation that began in the summer but didn’t reach his desk until after last week’s election.
“I have a lot of confidence, generally, in the FBI,” Obama said, qualifying his words of support for the agency and its actions in the case.
As Obama spoke about the scandal from the White House, legislators on Capitol Hill were grilling FBI and CIA officials privately about the same issues: whether national security was jeopardized by the case and why they didn’t know about the investigation sooner.
“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,” Obama said at his first postelection news conference.
As for the FBI’s handling of the matter, Obama said: “My expectation is that they follow the protocols that they’ve already established. One of the challenges here is that we’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations, and that’s been our practice.”
Federal law enforcement officials have said the FBI didn’t inform the White House and Congress sooner about the original investigation because of rules set up after the Watergate scandal to prevent interference in criminal investigations and that lawmakers weren’t given notice of potential national security problems because the bureau had quickly resolved them.
CIA Director David Petraeus resigned Friday, two days after the White House was notified that he’d acknowledged having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
The FBI’s investigation of the matter began last summer when Tampa, Fla., socialite Jill Kelley turned over anonymous emails that had been sent to her and Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. The first anonymous email was sent to Allen in May, under the pseudonym “Kelleypatrol,” and he forwarded it to Kelley.
That email warned Allen to stay away from Kelley, according to a person close to Kelley. That same email — later traced to Broadwell — said the writer knew about a future meeting Allen and Kelley had scheduled. Allen thought the email was a joke or that it was possibly from Kelley because he didn’t know how anyone else would know about their planned meeting, the person close to Kelley said.
Kelley was a friend of Allen and Petraeus, both of whom she had met in Tampa when the men served there.
One of the federal law enforcement officials confirmed Wednesday that FBI agents were concerned that somebody was tracking the movements of Allen and Petraeus, raising the possibility of a national security breach.
Kelley’s complaints about the threatening emails triggered the FBI investigation that led to the resignation of Petraeus and the inquiry into her communications with Allen. Officials said Broadwell apparently saw Kelley as a rival for Petraeus’ affections.
The official also said Broadwell sent emails to a couple of other senior military officials besides Petraeus and Allen. The official characterized the emails as an attempt to undermine Kelley’s reputation.
The FBI found a substantial number of classified documents on Broadwell’s computer, and she has told agents that took classified documents out of secure government buildings, according to the official.
On Monday, the FBI also found classified documents in the search of Broadwell’s house in Charlotte, N.C., the official said. Broadwell had agreed to the search and had told agents in advance that there would be more of them there.
A lawyer for Allen promised the general would cooperate fully with the Defense Department inspector general’s investigation.
“To the extent that there are questions about certain communications by General Allen, he shares in the desire to resolve those questions as completely and quickly as possible,” said Col. John Baker, chief defense counsel of the Marine Corps. Allen has denied any wrongdoing.
Word surfaced Wednesday that Kelley’s pass to enter MacDill Air Force Base in Florida had been indefinitely suspended, a decision made at the base level. Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Steven Warren said Kelley still can enter the base but must report to the visitor center and sign in like others without a pass.
Separately, a U.S. official said the Army has suspended Broadwell’s security clearance. As a former Army intelligence officer, she held a high security clearance. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Acting CIA Director Michael Morell went before the House panel next, after meeting a day earlier with top Senate intelligence officials to explain the CIA’s take on events that led to Petraeus’ resignation.
The questioning on Capitol Hill will continue today.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said a hearing to explore the government’s handling of the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, also would touch on the Petraeus affair, covering how and why the FBI investigation was started. He said Mueller, Joyce and Morell only began to answer those questions Wednesday.
Petraeus will testify Friday before the House Intelligence Committee about Libya.
Lawmakers are also concerned over reports that Broadwell had classified information on her laptop, though FBI investigators say they concluded there was no security breach.