Petraeus: I didn’t quit over Benghazi
(CNN) — Former CIA Director David Petraeus, in conversations with an HLN journalist, insisted that his resignation had nothing to do with his scheduled testimony about the September attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Petraeus has been talking with HLN’s Kyra Phillips, and confirmed to her what his supporters have been saying.
“In our first conversation,” Phillips said Thursday, Petraeus “had told me he had engaged in something dishonorable. He sought to do the honorable thing in response — and that was to come forward. He was very clear that he screwed up terribly … even felt fortunate to have a wife who is far better than he deserves.”
Phillips, who knows Petraeus from several interviews, initially reached out to him to express shock at the news of the affair that derailed a highly decorated career in the military and CIA.
Among other things, Petraeus said he has not talked with Paula Broadwell, his biographer and woman he admitted an affair with, since the scandal broke.
“He insisted to me that he has never passed classified information to Paula Broadwell,” Phillips said. “He said this has nothing to do with Benghazi, and he wants to testify. He will testify.”
Petraeus is expected to testify before a House committee on Friday.
The former CIA chief didn’t try to persuade his bosses to let him keep his job once he admitted the affair, and “has maintained to me all along this was a personal failing,” Phillips said.
Petraeus’ extramarital affair ended months ago. But it continues to make waves in Washington, as suspicions ripple through the capital about the timing of its revelation and Petraeus’ scheduled testimony into the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.
His appearance before the House Intelligence Committee Friday will be voluntarily.
In addition, the chain of fiery e-mails that led the FBI to discover the sexual indiscretion has caused collateral damage, putting the imminent nomination of Gen. John Allen to the highest echelons of military command on hold, until the nature of his e-mail exchange with a military “socialite” and his relationship with her have been clarified.
Petraeus, 60, reportedly has not been following the media firestorm over the extramarital affair that led to his resignation.
“He wants to maintain a distance and focus on his family at this time,” his aide, retired Col. Peter Mansoor, has said.
He is dealing with the moral implications of his actions and the long healing process ahead.
The affair with Broadwell ended about four months ago, Mansoor said, though the two remained in contact afterward, as she needed his help to finish her dissertation.
President Barack Obama has bypassed the chorus of congressional voices calling for an investigation into why the FBI did not notify Washington’s leaders sooner about its investigation into the sexual indiscretion that put an end to the former CIA chief’s career.
“I am withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding Gen. Petraeus came up,” Obama told reporters at the White House. Obama said he agreed with Petraeus’ decision to resign after acknowledging an affair, but praised his service to the country.
He saw no evidence of a potential breach in national security.
In Congress, lawmakers from both parties have complained about not having been notified sooner of the investigation.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, is concerned about possible links between the timing of Petraeus departure and a congressional inquiry into the September attack in Libya, which killed four Americans.
Some of his Republican colleagues share Graham’s unease.
Petraeus offered to keep his appointment to testify before the House committee even after his resignation because he “did not like the conspiracies going around that somehow he had something to hide on Benghazi,” Mansoor said.
In the Senate, the nature of the FBI’s investigation into Petraeus’ affair has also raised the ire of Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who wants questions answered on “how it was instituted.”
She is hoping Petraeus will also address her Senate panel as early as Friday.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has defended his request to withhold Allen’s nomination to NATO commander pending an investigation into his contacts with Jill Kelley, whose complaints about anonymous, harassing e-mails led to the discovery of the affair between Petraeus and Broadwell, 40.
Defense officials have said Allen may have exchanged inappropriate e-mails with Kelley, who was a volunteer at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
Reports by officials familiar with the messages give conflicting impressions about their potentially inappropriate nature.
“If they got out, John Allen would be very embarrassed by them,” said a U.S. official familiar with the e-mails but who added that there was no evidence of physical contact between the two.
But a senior official close to Allen told CNN that the e-mails contained nothing pointing to sex or anything of a romantic nature.
Allen has yet to be questioned by Defense Department inspector general staff but is expected to cooperate. He has denied wrongdoing, defense officials have said.
“What I don’t want to do is try to characterize those communications,” Panetta told reporters from Bangkok, Thailand, on Thursday. “I have tremendous confidence in Gen Allen. I don’t think anybody ought to jump to conclusions.”
Broadwell’s anonymous e-mail, which had also been sent to a number of other officers, bore the handle “kelleypatrol — or something similar,” an official said. Allen may have received the first one as early as mid May.
The official described the e-mail as “a warning that Kelley was a seductress or something along those lines” and said it was vaguely threatening, but above all weird. “Allen did not know it was (from) Broadwell,” the official said.
Kelley and her husband are friends with Allen and with Petreaus and his family. Petraeus’ paramour may have become jealous of a woman she perceived to be a rival for his attention. The e-mails continued.
A senior official close to Kelley has described her as a “rich socialite” who knows all of CentCom’s commanders.
Various officials familiar with the e-mails and the parties involved give varying accounts on the trail that led from the messages sent to Allen maligning Kelley to the investigation into Petraeus affair.
But Allen apparently forwarded at least one of the e-mails to Kelley to let her know about the assault on her character, and her complaint about them landed via a personal contact at the FBI, which investigated.
That Allen remains in command in Afghanistan suggests that there is no criminal issue, a U.S. official told CNN. But the official said the Defense Department’s inspector general could still find evidence of criminal conduct.
Kelley has not responded publicly to the latest news.
Both Allen and Petraeus appear to know Kelley’s sister, Natalie Khawam. The men wrote letters in support of the sister in a custody battle, court records show.
FBI agents have visited Broadwell’s home in Charlotte, North Carolina. A senior law enforcement official has said it appeared unlikely she would be prosecuted for any unauthorized release of classified information.
Broadwell had previously turned over a computer to investigators.
A source told CNN that Broadwell was acting as Petraeus’ archivist and that the FBI had gone to her house to look for any documents she might have.
As a commissioned officer in the military reserves, Broadwell would have had “secret” or “top secret” security clearance, military officials said.
Broadwell has spoken about having to follow stringent guidelines in dealing with sensitive information in the course of researching the first book.
Broadwell, a military intelligence reservist, is assigned to West Point, the Army’s military academy, according to her service record, which lists her assignment as “United States Military Academy Staff & Faculty.” In August, she was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Last month, during a speech at the University of Denver, Broadwell suggested the September attackers in Libya were targeting a secret prison at the Benghazi consulate annex, raising unverified concerns about possible security leaks.
“I don’t know if a lot of you have heard this, but the CIA annex had actually taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to get these prisoners back,” she said.
A senior intelligence official said no prisoners had been held at the annex. Broadwell did not provide a source for her information, and no evidence has emerged that it came from Petraeus.
Administration officials have said the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack.