Holder felt he had been on firm ground in keeping the information from Obama. His thinking was that one doesn’t inform the president of ongoing criminal cases unless they had clear national security implications or impacted the executive branch in obvious ways.

Aides say that the presidential campaign played a role, too. It wasn’t that Holder sought to shield the president from embarrassment; rather, he wanted to avoid any possible appearance or implication that the White House might interfere with the investigation, they say. …

Still, even former Justice officials who sympathize with Holder, and see his actions as well intentioned and not aimed at protecting his boss from scandal, argue he went astray.

As long as he kept word of the investigation from Obama, they say, he was sitting on information with unavoidable implications for national security since they involved the CIA chief. If he felt he was following the correct protocol, he was simply being too rigid, they contend. …

But for those three months, the president was denied the chance to make his own decision—and, perhaps, to leave Petraeus in office. It would certainly have been wrong for Obama to meddle with the investigation for political reasons. But it arguably would not have been wrong for him to know about and discuss the matter, especially since it had bearing on the future of his intelligence chief.