Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein may be angry, but it’s looking increasingly as if Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller steered an arguably prudent course in not informing congressional intelligence leaders of the David Petraeus affair.
The news that emerged Monday indicates that Holder and Mueller were confronted with an extraordinary mess involving the personal misconduct of Petraeus and his mistress-biographer, Paula Broadwell – and the seriously out-of-bounds conduct of a Tampa FBI agent who spurred the federal cyberstalking investigation that uncovered the relationship.
As the world now knows, Petraeus friend Jill Kelley – who was not having an affair with the now-former CIA director – received anonymous emails described as harassing that were eventually traced to Broadwell. Kelley told her friend, the unidentified FBI agent, and the agent referred the matter for federal investigation.
That someone like Jill Kelley gets her concerns elevated into a federal cyberstalking probe — leading by some accounts to warrantless searches of Broadwell’s private email — because she’s friends with an FBI agent, is suspect in itself. The Daily Beast reported that Broadwell’s emails were what a source described as “kind of cat fight stuff,” and that they barely mentioned Petraeus.
Then it got weirder. Kelley’s FBI agent friend was taken off the investigation after he sent a shirtless photo of himself to Kelley and engaged in other behavior described as “obsessive.” The still-unidentified agent is apparently the whistleblower who spoke with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to warn of his national security concerns about Petraeus.
Needless to say, the agent is now referred to the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which will likely pass harsh judgment on his professional conduct.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Petraeus all along was hoping to keep the news of his affair private and salvage his job.
Anonymous Justice Department officials have made the case to reporters that regulations guarding against Hoover-era blackmail prevent disclosure of negative personal information about a public figure, who committed no crime, that was discovered in the course of an investigation.
But this was really a judgment call made by Holder and Mueller.
Feinstein, the Senate intelligence committee chair, likely has congressional Republicans partially to blame for her being kept in the dark. House Republicans like Eric Cantor have proven utterly irresponsible in guiding American public life. If Cantor had been able to confirm his tip, would he or his crowd have been mature enough not to leak the information for some perceived pre-election political gain?
Maybe Holder and Mueller thought Petraeus, given his long and distinguished service to the country, was owed the go-slow approach they took.
Undoubtedly President Barack Obama is delighted that he wasn’t informed of the mess until it was time to accept Petraeus’s resignation.