The timing of the resignation of David Petraeus looks more curious as the days go by. Yesterday, Sen Dianne Feinstein said that the FBI should have notified the Congressional intelligence committees as soon as they knew that CIA Director David Petraeus was either under suspicion or under threat. Last night, the Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI and the Department of Justice knew months ago of the affair between Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell, and that Broadwell was the source of the e-mails that had prompted their investigation in the first place:
They learned that Ms. Broadwell and Mr. Petraeus had set up private Gmail accounts to use for their communications, which included explicit details of a sexual nature, according to U.S. officials. But because Mr. Petraeus used a pseudonym, agents doing the monitoring didn’t immediately uncover that he was the one communicating with Ms. Broadwell.
By late summer, after the monitoring of Ms. Broadwell’s emails uncovered the link to Mr. Petraeus, prosecutors and agents alerted senior officials at FBI and the Justice Department, including Mr. Holder, U.S. officials say. The investigators never monitored Mr. Petraeus’s email accounts, the officials say.
In September, prosecutors and agents began a legal analysis to determine whether there were any charges that could be brought. Among the discussions: whether to interview Ms. Broadwell, who was the focus of the criminal probe, and Mr. Petraeus.
That should have prompted briefings with the chairs and vice-chairs of the Congressional intelligence committees, as Feinstein noted yesterday. What happened after those briefings should most certainly have come to their attention, as the FBI found that Broadwell had classified documents on her computer:
Top officials signed off on the interviews, which occurred in late September and October, just before the U.S. presidential election. During Ms. Broadwell’s first interview in September, she admitted to the affair and turned over her computer, the officials said.
On her computer, investigators found classified documents, the U.S. officials said, a discovery that raised new concerns.
At Mr. Petraeus’s interview in the week before the election, he also admitted the affair and said he hadn’t provided the classified documents to Ms. Broadwell. Agents conducted a second interview with Ms. Broadwell on Nov. 2. She also said Mr. Petraeus wasn’t the source of the documents.
Even after this came to light in the probe, the FBI’s top brass and the Department of Justice never notified Congress. Instead, Congressional leaders discovered the probe after a whistleblower in the FBI alerted a member of the House, who forwarded the tip to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last month. Cantor contacted the FBI, which then scrambled to make a determination of its probe. They decided that they couldn’t bring any charges — and finally notified Petraeus’ boss, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper on Election Day.
Even then, though, it took nearly three days to notify Congress of the probe through official channels. According to the WSJ, Clapper’s office only started calling Congressional leaders on Friday, apparently when they knew that Petraeus had decided to resign over the affair.
This answers a couple of questions, but prompts a couple of them, too. If Petraeus hadn’t decided to resign, the FBI and DoJ could have continued to sit on this information and allowed Petraeus to continue in his role. However, the leak from within the FBI might have prompted Petraeus to make that decision. After all, he was interviewed twice by the FBI in September about his affair, and didn’t resign at that time. Did the leak from the FBI intend to press Petraeus into action, or just to force the FBI and DoJ to finally brief Congressional leadership as required? On the other hand, as Feinstein herself said yesterday on Fox News, these committees have learned this kind of information before about past DCIs without letting the secrets out. So why resign now rather than in September, when Petraeus first discovered that his affair had been exposed to some degree in a particularly ugly way?
The timing doesn’t make a lot of sense — but then again, timing in affairs rarely do, and usually don’t require government conspiracies for their irrationality, either. Regardless of the why, Petraeus’ resignation appears to have been the worst tactical decision in his life, if he wanted to avoid scrutiny over his affair with Broadwell, other than engaging in the affair in the first place.
Update: I’ve fixed the second excerpt.