WASHINGTON/TAMPA: The scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus widened Tuesday as U.S. defense officials said they were looking into “flirtatious” emails between General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and a woman at the center of the affair.
Defense Department officials said they were sifting through 30,000 pages of email and other communications between Allen and Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite whose complaints about harassing messages led to the discovery of Petraeus’ affair with his biographer.
The revelation threatens to fell another of the U.S. military’s biggest names after Petraeus’ surprise resignation last week. It also complicates President Barack Obama’s efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan and reorganize his national security team following his re-election.
A senior defense official told Reuters the emails between Allen and Kelley were seen as potentially inappropriate because they were “flirtatious” in nature, not because they dealt with sensitive information.
Allen has denied that the two had a sexual relationship, officials said on condition of anonymity.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Allen, a four-star Marine Corps general, would stay in his job for the time being, and the White House said Obama still had faith in Allen’s ability to command U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
But asked how Obama saw the unfolding scandal at a time when his priorities included the impending “fiscal cliff,” press secretary Jay Carney said: “I certainly wouldn’t call it welcome.”
Obama suspended plans to transfer Allen to Europe, where he was to be the top commander of U.S. and allied forces in the region.
Both Allen and Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, the official due to replace allen in Afghanistan, must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before they can take their posts in February.
Top lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee said they would go ahead with a confirmation hearing for Dunford Thursday. Allen’s appearance was canceled.
Allen had just submitted recommendations on what role the United States should play in Afghanistan after most American combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014.
The investigations raised questions about how top U.S. officials in sensitive national security posts allowed themselves to become so personally involved with the women.
Kelley, 37, whose family left Lebanon for the United States in the 1970s, is a fixture in military circles in Tampa, Florida, where she was a volunteer social liaison at MacDill Air Force Base, home to the U.S. Central Command. She and her husband, surgeon Scott Kelley, became friends with Petraeus when he was stationed there from 2008 to 2010.
Her complaints about harassing emails from the woman with whom Petraeus had an affair, Paula Broadwell, prompted an FBI investigation that ultimately disclosed Petraeus’ involvement with Broadwell.
A law enforcement source told Reuters the emails Kelley turned over to the FBI contained information about Petraeus’ the movements which was not publicly available.
The fact that the emails’ author – later determined to be Petraeus’ mistress Paula Broadwell – knew confidential information about the CIA chief’s activities was one of the main reasons the FBI felt compelled to launch an in-depth investigation into their origin and motivation, the source said.
The emails, which a second law enforcement source said included warnings to Kelley, that the writer knew “what you were doing,” were sent to Kelley by a sender who used several fake email addresses.
Disturbed that the anonymous emailer had confidential information about Petraeus’ whereabouts, the FBI obtained an administrative subpoena empowering them to examine the email accounts from which the messages were sent to discover the sender’s identity, one of the sources said.
Armed with the subpoena, investigators learned that the harassing messages were sent to Kelley by Broadwell, who had written a Petraeus biography. Upon further investigation of Broadwell and her email accounts, investigators discovered additional emails implicating the CIA director and Broadwell in an extra-marital affair, the two sources said.
People close to Petraeus say he had no romantic ties with Kelley, but Broadwell may have seen her as a rival.
Both Petraeus and Allen had recently intervened in a bitter custody battle on behalf of Kelley’s twin sister. The men wrote letters in September to the District of Columbia Superior Court in support of the sister, Natalie Khawam, as she sought more visitation rights with her son, court papers showed.
The court files raise questions regarding why two decorated generals would vouch for Khawam, who had piles of legal troubles in recent years.
Not only did the judge in the case award her ex-husband custody last year of their 3-year-old son, John, but he also told Khawam to pay his legal bills amounting to $350,000. Khawam filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in April after racking up more than $3 million in debt, according to federal court records.
The status of her most recent custody appeal was not immediately known.
Khawam’s relationship with her ex-husband, Grayson Wolfe, grew to levels of remarkable acrimony as detailed in court papers. She made repeated claims of abuse, which the judge called “an ever-expanding set of sensational accusations” against Wolfe that were “numerous,” “extraordinary,” and, “so distorted that they defy any common sense view of reality.”
All told, it was a very different dynamic than what the two generals said they witnessed.
“We have seen a very loving relationship – a mother working hard to provide her son enjoyable, educational and developmental experiences,” Petraeus said in September, referring to when he hosted the family for Christmas dinner.
“It is clear to me that John would benefit from much more time with his mother and from removal of the burdensome restrictions imposed on her when she does get to spend time with him,” he added.
Kelley’s brother David Khawam meanwhile told WPVI-TV in Philadelphia Monday night that details of the allegations surged fast.
“It’s happened extremely quickly, we’re talking 12, 24 hours, maximum, since we’ve found out about this. It’s a shock. We’re trying to figure out where the pieces are falling right now,” Khawam said in the interview done at his offices in Westmont, New Jersey.
He said that his family left Lebanon for Huntingdon Valley in Montgomery County in Pennsylvania in the 1970s to escape turmoil and fighting. His parents opened a Middle Eastern food restaurant in Vorhees, New Jersey, called Sahara.
“My family is very patriotic; we came from Lebanon at a young age,” he said.
Officials suggested that they were concerned by the volume of communications between Allen and Kelley over the past two years, rather than the possibility that the two shared classified material or engaged in an extramarital affair.
“We are concerned about inappropriate communications. We are not going to speculate as to what is contained in these documents,” one official said.
Details on content of the emails were not revealed.
The FBI referred the case to the Pentagon Sunday and Panetta directed the Defense Department’s Inspector General to handle the investigation. Panetta also informed lawmakers who oversee military affairs.
FBI agents searched the Charlotte, North Carolina, house of Broadwell late Monday in a sign that the case involving Petraeus was not fully closed.
Agents entered the house carrying boxes at around 9 p.m. (0200 GMT Tuesday) and emerged four hours later, carrying away what appeared to be two computers and about 10 boxes.
Broadwell’s family was not at home at the time.
U.S. officials had said in recent days that their investigation was largely complete and that prosecutors had determined it was unlikely they would bring charges in that case, which started when Kelley contacted an FBI agent in Tampa about harassing emails from an anonymous source.
That FBI agent, who has not been identified, came under scrutiny himself after it was discovered he had sent shirtless photographs of himself to Kelley “long before” this investigation, a law enforcement official told Reuters.
The FBI agent, who alerted an FBI cyber squad to the Broadwell case, apparently became frustrated at the pace of the investigation and complained to a member of Congress about it, the official said.
The emails between the two women were of a “childish,” jealous nature and showed some one-upmanship of trying to come across as being more important to Petraeus, the official said.
Lawmakers and others have questioned whether Broadwell, who co-wrote a biography of the decorated former general, obtained classified information from him or another source.
Panetta had earlier said Petraeus did the right thing by stepping down, given the security concerns, but he was saddened by the end of the retired general’s distinguished career.