Why the Justice Department and FBI did not inform the White House until after the election of the investigation that turned up CIA Director David Petraeus’s involvement in an extra-marital affair is likely to bring tough new questions for Attorney General Eric Holder.
“It seems this (the investigation) has been going on for several months and, yet, now it appears that they’re saying that the FBI didn’t realize until Election Day that General Petraeus was involved. It just doesn’t add up,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Sunday on CNN.
A Wall Street Journal editorial on Sunday called it “passing strange, not to say politically convenient,” that the White House didn’t learn of the matter until President Barack Obama had won re-election.
“A report of this kind had to have gone up the chain of command to FBI Director Robert Mueller, and probably to Attorney General Eric Holder. Did they not tell anybody at the White House, not even the general counsel? This is odd, if not a dereliction, and the information chain needs to be understood,” the Journal’s editorial said.
According to a timeline reported by various news outlets, the FBI waited until 5 p.m. on Nov. 6 — Election night — to notify Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. of the investigation. The probe had already been going on some months.
The next day, Clapper notified senior White House national security staff that Petraeus was considering resigning. Obama was told of the situation on Thursday, and by Friday had accepted the CIA director’s resignation.
An FBI official told Reuters that the congressional intelligence committees weren’t informed until last Friday because the criminal investigation began into harassing emails Petraeus’s mistress, Paula Broadwell, sent to another woman, now identified as a family friend from Tampa, Jill Kelley, 37.
Holder learned of the link to Petraeus in “late summer,” according to a news article published Sunday in the Wall Street Journal.
After a legal analysis about whether any charges could be brought, top officials approved an interview of Broadwell, the focus on the probe, the Journal said. The interview took place in September, and Broadwell admitted the affair and handed over her computer. Petraeus was interviewed in October shortly before the election, the Journal reported.
According to Reuters, the Justice Department followed policy and did not discuss the investigation outside the department for fear of jeopardizing a possible prosecution and for reasons of fairness and appropriateness. They also did not reveal the probe when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called to report an FBI whistleblower’s allegation of a national security concern about Petraeus.
The Journal reported that the policy against disclosing criminal investigations to the White House or Congress was underlined in 2007 by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey in a memo after the high-profile scandal over firings of U.S. Attorneys.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.,) chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee, told the Journal, “We should have been told.” The congressional panel leaders are supposed to be informed of significant national security developments. She said she would examine the FBI’s failure to inform.
On Wednesday, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell will meet with leaders of congressional intelligence committees to discuss the matter.