WASHINGTON — The salacious David Petraeus sex scandal grew ever wider Tuesday as yet another four-star general became caught up in an FBI investigation ironically set in motion by the Tampa socialite at the heart of the latest eye-popping revelations.
Any aspirations the current U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. John Allen, may have had to lead NATO appeared to go up in smoke amid allegations he exchanged as many as 30,000 “potentially inappropriate” emails with Jill Kelley, a volunteer social liaison officer to an air force base in Tampa.
U.S. President Barack Obama put the brakes on Allen’s NATO nomination early Tuesday.
“At the request of the secretary of defence, the president has put on hold his nomination of Gen. Allen … pending the investigation of Gen. Allen’s conduct,” Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement.
Adultery can be a crime under military law, depending on the circumstances. It’s particularly frowned upon for intelligence officials since it can leave them vulnerable to blackmail attempts.
Kelley and her family are now the subject of seamy media attention months after she first complained to a friendly FBI agent in Florida about menacing, anonymous email showing up in her inbox.
That agent, incidentally, was removed from the case when he reportedly sent shirtless photos of himself to Kelley and tipped off a Republican congressman about the FBI probe because he feared it was being stalled to benefit Obama politically.
The source of the nasty emails to Kelley turned out to be 40-year-old Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’s extra-marital girlfriend at the time. The FBI then learned of an ongoing affair between Petraeus, the retired four-star general, and Broadwell, his fawning biographer and a North Carolina mother of two.
Petraeus, 60, resigned from the CIA on Friday, one day after informing Obama about the affair.
But investigators also reportedly learned of another puzzling association throughout the course of their probe — Allen’s and Kelly’s. In two years, from 2010 to 2012, the pair apparently exchanged as many as 30,000 emails.
“That’s a heck of a lot of time behind the computer sending notes to a party planner,” retired general James “Spider” Marks said on CNN.
“From a senior officer who has, obviously, a bunch of things on his plate. He’s burning a lot of daylight spending time with a party planner over email. So that’s just bizarre, in my mind.”
Now Kelley, not just Broadwell — the woman who jealously viewed her as a rival for Petraeus’s affections — is on the hot seat, accused of impropriety and even of possessing classified information.
The 37-year-old Kelley, the daughter of Philadelphia-based Lebanese immigrants, is married to a Tampa surgeon and has three young children. She insists she and her husband are simply close friends of David and Holly Petraeus; she’s hired a high-priced D.C. lawyer to represent her.
A blog written by Petraeus’s adult daughter suggests the couples and their children have spent Christmas and Thanksgiving together in recent years. An online scrapbook about one of Kelley’s young daughters features a photo of the girl sitting on Petraeus’s lap.
Broadwell, however, apparently saw something more in their relationship.
According to some reports, her emails to Kelley asked if her husband was aware of her behaviour, and alleged she’d witnessed her suspected romantic rival stroking Petraeus’s leg beneath a table at a social event.
FBI agents, meantime, have been searching Broadwell’s home in Charlotte, N.C. They were seen removing computers and documents on Monday night.
Another troubling association emerged on Tuesday between the generals and Kelley. Both the disgraced CIA director and Allen wrote letters recently in support of Kelley’s twin sister, Natalie Khawam, in an ugly custody battle with her ex-husband.
It’s a messy, multi-pronged drama that some wags on Twitter have dubbed a “love pentagon.” Republican congressman Pete King called it a “Greek tragedy.”
Regardless of the description, the scandal marks a stunningly seamy end to the career of one of the most storied military commanders in recent American history — and is threatening the future of another.
The married Allen succeeded Petraeus as the top allied commander in Afghanistan in July 2011. He was also Petraeus’s deputy from 2008 until 2010, when both men were in charge of the military’s Tampa-based Central Command.
Allen will, for now, remain commander in Afghanistan. He was expected to easily get through confirmation hearings in the Senate on his nomination to be the commander of American forces in Europe and the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO.
The allegations against Allen are relatively fresh. The FBI first notified the Pentagon of Allen’s “flirtatious” communications with Kelley on Sunday night, a senior defence department official told the Washington Post.
In response, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta referred the investigation on Monday to the department’s inspector general.
Another senior official denied an affair between Allen and Kelley, although the source acknowledged the pair exchanged “a few hundred emails over a couple of years” that were largely routine. In an interview with the Washington Post, the official disputed they numbered into the thousands.
“He’s never been alone with her,” the official told the Post. “Did he have an affair? No.”
The senior official said Allen, too, received at least one anonymous email about Kelley from Broadwell. Allen discussed the email with Kelley, who was already receiving harassing messages at the time.
The latest developments create serious headaches for the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Allen was soon set to give Panetta a recommendation on U.S. troop withdrawals in 2013; he’s now in Washington, dealing with the allegations against him.
The FBI investigation, set into motion by Kelley, reportedly turned attention onto her email as well — something she might not have banked on when calling a friend in the agency to complain about the anonymous messages.
That friend, later removed from the case, is now under internal investigation at the FBI.
His personal friendship with Kelley has prompted questions about why an investigation was launched into the anonymous emails to begin with. According to some reports, the messages were more insulting than threatening and didn’t warrant FBI attention.
There is also evidence of financial woes for the Kelleys. In 2010, the couple was reportedly served with a foreclosure lawsuit involving a downtown Tampa office building. Court records showed they owed more than $2 million on the property.
In 2011, a judge ordered the property to be put up for sale, the Tampa Bay Times reported.