[Above image: Gen. David Petraeus as CIA Director, Official Photo]
The New York Times reports federal prosecutors are recommending felony charges against former CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus for allegedly providing classified information to a civilian author and journalist with whom he allegedly had an affair.
In light of the news, it’s worth looking at the following excerpt from my book: Stonewalled.
Meanwhile, another controversy is waiting to boil over within the Obama administration: a sex scandal involving the CIA’s Petraeus. The timing is—intriguing. Only after the Benghazi attacks, as Petraeus’s loyalty to the administration falls into question, does everything turn sour for the spy chief.
In the immediate aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, Petraeus first draws ire from some administration colleagues for not reading from the Carney-Obama-Clinton-Rice book of fiction. While they’re pushing the spontaneous protest narrative, he’s disclosing full information on the suspected al-Qaeda links, to House Intelligence Committee members at a classified briefing, according to those present. Then the talking points his agency approves for public dissemination on September 14 say that the CIA provided warnings on September 10 that the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, could come under attack and that Benghazi was in a precarious state. Clinton’s state department sees the inclusion of that damning information in the CIA’s original proposed talking points as a “knee-jerk cover-your-ass moment” on Petraeus’s part. One official later tells me, “We thought, Why are you guys [Petraeus’s CIA] throwing us under the bus? . . . They made it seem like the State Department was given a warning they ignored. [But] no specific warning was given.”
Emails indicate that on September 15, 2012, a CIA representative sent Petraeus the final version of the talking points that had been revised “through the Deputies Committee” after “State voiced strong concerns with the original text.” The CIA’s references to terrorism and early warnings had been removed.
Petraeus expresses disapproval of the final version, writing that he would just assume that they not be used. But his deputy, Morell, and the White House give them the green light.
Is all of this the beginning of the end of Petraeus’s career as CIA director?
Let’s look at a timeline constructed primarily using government accounts:
In November 2011, Petraeus, who’s married, allegedly begins an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
The following summer, of 2012, the FBI discovers the affair and FBI director Robert Mueller is notified on a date the government won’t disclose. Also, at some point, the FBI interviews Petraeus and Broadwell and concludes national security hasn’t been breached. But the FBI continues investigating whether Petraeus had any involvement in sending harassing emails to a third party.
In late summer, on a date the government won’t reveal, Attorney General Eric Holder is notified of Petraeus’s troubles. Supposedly, the White House is kept in the dark. Apparently, Holder doesn’t think President Obama needs to know that one of his top cabinet-level officials is under FBI investigation (not to mention part of a potential sex scandal). No one starts developing a strategy in the event the Petraeus scandal blows up before the election. And, we’re to believe, not a soul worries that President Obama could get hit with a surprise question about Petraeus on the campaign trail.
Then comes September 11.
Some Obama administration officials become frustrated if not downright angry with Petraeus and his post-attack behavior. His deputy, Morell, is given authority over the talking point edits and sides with the State Department against Petraeus’s desires. In late October, as Petraeus’s interagency relationships become increasingly strained over Benghazi, some FBI agents suddenly reach out to Republicans in Congress to disclose Petraeus’s dirty laundry. They eventually land at the office of Republican majority leader Eric Cantor. About that same time, the week of October 29, the FBI interviews Petraeus and Broadwell a second time.
Now, normally in Washington, D.C., this would be about the time the scandal goes viral. Republican leaders, alerted to a sensitive issue that they could argue has national security implications, could be expected to at least leak to the press. Especially with less than two weeks to go until the presidential election.
But strangely enough, that doesn’t happen.
On October 31, in a move that seems to defy everything that defines Washington, the chief of staff for Congressman Cantor keeps publicly mum about the administration’s burgeoning scandal and instead confidentially contacts the FBI’s chief of staff about the Petraeus rumors. Even with the news having reached the president’s most ardent political opponents and with the election just a week away, the entire White House is still, somehow, for some reason, uninformed.
Fast-forward a week to November 6, the day of the election. Someone at the Justice Department, we’re told, has finally decided to tell Director of National Intelligence Clapper about Petraeus. (How good of a chief intelligence officer are you if you don’t know the head of the CIA has been under investigation by your FBI for months? And Republicans on the Hill know before you do?) Clapper calls Petraeus the same day and urges him to resign. It’s a stark reversal of the FBI’s pre-Benghazi determination that there was no harm in Petraeus staying on the job.
On Wednesday, November 7, according to the government’s accounts, somebody finally notifies the White House about all of the above. And when is the president himself finally looped in? Not until Thursday, November 8, say officials. The president accepts Petraeus’s resignation on Friday, November 9.
… the timing of Petraeus’s departure could be purely coincidental. Maybe it had nothing to do with his supposed disloyalty to the administration after Benghazi. But one thing is certain: his inelegant and abrupt exit from the CIA ended the interagency resentments that he sparked in the aftermath of Benghazi. As for Petraeus’s insight into all of this? He’s not talking.
Read the NYT article about the possible prosecution of Petraeus
Read more in the New York Times bestseller: Stonewalled