Justice Knew about Petraeus’s Affair This Summer

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have new stories out tonight about the scandal which led to David Petraeus’s resignation on Friday, both hitting on one interesting point: Petraeus’s affair was known at the top levels of the Justice Department months ago. The Times explains that “high-level officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department were notified in the late summer.” The Journal story goes further, saying that Eric Holder himself “knew about the email link to Mr. Petraeus as far back as late summer,” timing the NYT deliberately leaves unclear.

They also have an in-depth explanation of how the affair came to be exposed. The Times:

The involvement of the F.B.I., according to government officials, began when Ms. Kelley, alarmed by about half a dozen anonymous e-mails accusing her of inappropriate flirtatious behavior with Mr. Petraeus, complained to an F.B.I. agent who is also a personal friend. That agent, who has not been identified, helped get a preliminary inquiry started. Agents working with federal prosecutors in a local United States attorney’s office began trying to figure out whether the e-mails constituted criminal cyber-stalking.

Because the sender’s account had been registered anonymously, investigators had to use forensic techniques — including a check of what other e-mail accounts had been accessed from the same computer address — to identify who was writing the e-mails.

Eventually they identified Ms. Broadwell as a prime suspect and obtained access to her regular e-mail account. In its in-box, they discovered intimate and sexually explicit e-mails from another account that also was not immediately identifiable. Investigators eventually ascertained that it belonged to Mr. Petraeus and studied the possibility that someone had hacked into Mr. Petraeus’s account or was posing as him to send the explicit messages.

Eventually they determined that Mr. Petraeus had indeed sent the messages to Ms. Broadwell and concluded that the two had had an affair. Then they turned their scrutiny on him, examining whether he knew about or was involved in sending the harassing e-mails to Ms. Kelley.

At that point, it’s explained, FBI and Justice agents involved had to inform their supervisors, both because the investigation had become more complicated and because guidelines mandated such notification when a “domestic public official” was involved. The FBI first interviewed Broadwell on October 21, at which time she admitted the affair. It wasn’t, the Times asserts, until this and other facts had been established that the federal law-enforcement officials involved felt like they could bring their findings to the White House, the DNI, and the CIA.

In case this story wasn’t weird enough, it’s also now been noted that in an October 26 speech, Broadwell referred to two Libyan militia members being held at the CIA installation in Benghazi that was used as a refuge on 9/11/12 — an assertion that was reported nowhere else. Eli Lake reports that the CIA denies the prisoner claim, which one assumes they would do whether it was true or not, but it’s a claim for which she appears to have had no clear source. The inevitable question, then, is whether she might have known this because of her special access to Petraeus or his e-mails.

The WSJ story says that the affair ended four months ago, long before the tragedy in Benghazi, though they hadn’t entirely stopped contact (“Mr. Petraeus continued to advise Ms. Broadwell on her research”). But surely they were not as closely entwined in recent months as they had been (to the point where, say, Petraeus might not indiscreetly pass on information about a news story), so it’s less than a sure thing that she could have gotten that information from Petraeus. 

Patrick Brennan — Patrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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