WASHINGTON — The FBI is making a new push to determine how a woman who had an affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus when he was CIA director obtained classified files, part of an expanding series of investigations in a scandal that also threatens the career of the United States’ top military commander in Afghanistan.
Senior law enforcement officials said that a late-night seizure on Monday of boxes of material from the North Carolina home of Paula Broadwell, a Petraeus biographer whose affair with him led to his resignation last week, marks a renewed focus by investigators on sensitive material found in her possession.
“The issue of national security is still on the table,” one U.S. law enforcement official said. Both Petraeus and Broadwell have denied to investigators that that he was the source of any classified information, officials said.
A U.S. official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the Army has suspended Broadwell’s security clearance. Broadwell, a West Point graduate, is a former Army intelligence officer and held a high security clearance. Because her clearance was issued through the Army, it was the service’s move to suspend it.
It’s not unusual for someone’s clearance to be suspended if that person is under investigation, particularly in cases of possible security breaches.
The surprise move by the FBI follows previous assertions by U.S. officials that the investigation had turned up no evidence of a security breach — a factor that was cited as a reason the Justice Department did not notify the White House before last week that the CIA director had been ensnared in an e-mail inquiry.
The disclosure about the FBI’s renewed focus comes as investigations of the matter expanded on other fronts.
The Defense Department announced Tuesday that its inspector general is examining hundreds of emails between Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and a Florida woman also linked to the Petraeus investigation.
At the same time, key lawmakers signaled Tuesday their intent to scrutinize the Justice Department’s handling of an inquiry that focused initially on a potential conflict between two private people but quickly morphed into an exhaustive examination of the e-mail of two top national security officers.
“My immediate gut is like this is the National Enquirer,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said in an interview on CNN. “I mean, every day there is something new.”
Feinstein added that she has “many questions about the nature of the FBI investigation, how it was instituted, and we’ll be asking those.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Barack Obama maintains confidence in Allen, and that the four-star Marine Corps general will continue to lead the war in Afghanistan even as he faces the inspector general’s inquiry.
“I can tell you that the president thinks very highly of General Allen and his service to his country, as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan,” Carney said, adding that Obama “has faith in General Allen, believes he’s doing and has done an excellent job.”
At the same time, however, Carney said that Obama put on hold Allen’s nomination to serve as supreme allied commander for NATO forces in Europe, canceling Allen’s appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.
The Allen investigation focuses on his extensive correspondence with Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Fla. resident who had carved out a role as an ad-hoc social ambassador to military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base.
Kelley, 37, was a close friend of Petraeus and inadvertently triggered the investigation that led to his resignation when she complained to an FBI agent earlier this year about threatening e-mail she had received from an anonymous sender who suggested that Kelley was having an intimate relationship with Petraeus. The bureau determined that the messages were sent by Broadwell, and the inquiry exposed her affair.
The investigation also revealed that Broadwell had sent a handful of emails to Allen — using the handle “kelleypatrol” — including one in which she described Kelley as a “seductress” and warned him to stay away from her, according to a law enforcement official.
Close associates of Allen, who is married, said the general denied that he had an affair with Kelley or that he had committed any wrongdoing in his communications with her. One said that investigators may have misconstrued platonic references to her as a “sweetheart.”
Nevertheless, the bureau turned over a mountain of documents to Pentagon officials, including an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 pages, based largely on communication between Allen and Kelley, prompting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to order an inspector general inquiry.
The continuing FBI inquiry of Broadwell and the new Pentagon probe of Allen creates the potential for more evidence to surface, and a scandal that has already spread rapidly to expand further.
The sequence of events, and the seemingly belated disclosures that Petraeus and Allen had been ensnared in the same investigation, have placed scrutiny on the Justice Department and the FBI.
The inquiry had been underway for months before the FBI notified the director of national intelligence on election night last week that the bureau had uncovered evidence that the CIA director was having an affair.
The Allen emails surfaced as part of the same inquiry over the summer, but notification of his involvement came even later. Carney said that the White House was not aware of the “situation” regarding Allen until Friday, adding that the revelations about the general and Petraeus stunned the president. “I certainly, I think wouldn’t call it welcome,” Carney said.
Defense officials said the FBI contacted Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon’s top counsel, Sunday afternoon. He then called Jeremy Bash, Panetta’s chief of staff, who was flying with his boss to Asia. Within 24 hours, Panetta approved an inspector general investigation.
“It wasn’t instant anger,” the senior defense official said of Panetta’s immediate reaction. “Panetta was concerned when he heard the news. He knew he had to follow the appropriate process. He has great respect for General Allen. He was saddened at what he knew was coming down the pike.”
A senior Senate aide said that the Senate Armed Services Committee wasn’t notified until about 9 p.m. Monday, when the Pentagon asked the panel to postpone a scheduled confirmation hearing for Allen this week. At the same time, the committee was asked to move “expeditiously” to confirm Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., who has been nominated to succeed Allen in Afghanistan.
The Senate aide said that the Pentagon provided limited information on the nature of the Allen e-mails, but that the decision to investigate suggests that defense officials see no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.
“Obviously, they think that the contents of all these e-mails are at the least ambiguous,” the aide said. “But if they thought that it was clear and pointed to evidence of an affair, I assume they would withdraw his nomination and relieve him.”
Adulterous relationships are outlawed under military code.
Law enforcement officials offered conflicting accounts of the significance of the FBI’s seizure of materials from Broadwell’s home. Officials said Broadwell provided access to the residence, which the FBI first requested on Sunday, and turned over computers, files and other material. She was not present when the search occurred over several hours Monday night.
A second U.S. law enforcement official acknowledged that investigators remain focused on determining whether classified material was compromised, but that more serious threats were ruled out. One official called the search a “cleanup effort” in the wake of congressional questions and publicity to ensure that the FBI had not missed any classified documents in its initial search or the significance of items already examined and discussed with her.
After investigators found email linking Broadwell and Petraeus, their initial focus over the summer was whether the CIA director’s “email had been hacked, he was in danger, or he was compromised,” the official said.
The ongoing effort is now aimed mainly at Broadwell. It “is now about the source of documents on her computer,” the official said. “At this point, there is no evidence to support that [Petraeus] was the source.” The official added that it would be a “little breathless to describe it as a national security investigation.”
The probe is being run by the cybercrime unit of the Tampa FBI field office, officials said.
The developments have complicated the administration’s attempt to contain the political fallout from the attacks on U.S. diplomatic outpost in Libya in September that killed four Americans.
Feinstein and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Tuesday that Petraeus is still likely to be called to testify on the CIA’s involvement in the incident and its aftermath.
“I think it is absolutely imperative that General Petraeus come and testify,” Collins said. The retired four-star Army general on Wednesday agreed to testify before Congress about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The timing had not been decided, a spokesman for the California Democrat said.