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Washington Surprised By News Of Petraeus Affair

Nov 12, 2012
Originally published on November 12, 2012 5:44 am



It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

The nation's capital this morning is trying to make sense of the sudden resignation last week of CIA director David Petraeus. More details are emerging about the extramarital affair that brought Petraeus down. It came to light following an FBI investigation that was not focused originally on the CIA director, but which soon led straight to him.

NPR's Tom Gjelten has the latest on that investigation and what it may mean for the Obama administration and the CIA in the weeks to come.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Retired Army General David Petraeus was held in awe by many who served under him or dealt with him here in Washington: a war hero, a paragon of personal discipline. Nearly everyone had the same reaction to the news that he carried on an extramarital affair while serving as CIA director, and that the affair was uncovered in the course of an FBI investigation.


SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: We received no advanced notice. It was like a lightning bolt.

GJELTEN: Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaking on Fox News Sunday.

Here's what we now know: David Petraeus's affair might have remained a secret, except that the woman with whom he was involved, his biographer, Paula Broadwell, apparently began sending harassing emails to another woman. Senator Feinstein said that she's been told the second woman was someone Petraeus knew and was close to.


FEINSTEIN: And that Mrs. Broadwell sent these threatening emails to her, and she was frightened and she went to the FBI. Oh, I can't believe it, but that's what it is.

GJELTEN: Several news organizations have identified the second woman as Jill Kelley, a personal friend of Petraeus and his wife Holly.

Among the questions now being asked are whether the FBI should have kept its investigation of the CIA director to itself as long as it did. Senator Feinstein wants to know why her committee was not alerted. The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Peter King, told CNN's "State of the Union" yesterday that he wants to know when the FBI learned General Petraeus was involved.


REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING: And at the time they did realize he was involved, did they go to the White House? Did they go to the National Security Council? Because obviously, this was a matter involving a potential compromise of security.

GJELTEN: White House officials say they only learned of the FBI investigation last week, after the presidential election. And some officials insist it's not obvious the CIA director having an extramarital affair really does amount to a national security issue.

Another question is what the Petraeus resignation means for inquiries into the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. General Petraeus was due to testify this week at closed hearings into the Benghazi assault. The acting CIA director, Michael Morell, the number two under Petraeus, will now represent the agency at those hearings.

Next comes the question of whom President Obama will choose as his new CIA director. He was already facing the prospect of picking a new secretary of state and a new defense secretary.

John McLaughlin, a former deputy CIA director who himself served for a time as the acting director, says it's important for the president to have a comfort level with the head of the CIA, more so perhaps than with the defense secretary or the secretary of state.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: The agency serves primarily the president. The president actually signs his name to pieces of paper directing the CIA to do things. So there's a personal quality to this that is not present in all national security transactions.

GJELTEN: When President Obama took office, there was some tension between the CIA and Congress over interrogation and detention practices. The president put a political insider, Leon Panetta, in charge of the agency. But the agency has had smoother sailing in recent years. And John McLaughlin says presidents in their second terms often are more at ease in their dealings with the CIA. That could make it easier for President Obama to elevate Michael Morell officially to the top agency position.

MCLAUGHLIN: He may simply ask for competence and confidence and honesty and straightforwardness, the kind of qualities that a professional intelligence officer has to have.

GJELTEN: David Petraeus enjoyed enormous prestige. Even in the wake of his personal scandal, Republicans and Democrats alike have praised his leadership. But there are some hard questions to be answered now over the Benghazi assault. For more than one reason, Petraeus will be a tough act for anyone to follow. Tom Gjelten, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.