TOPICS > Politics

Should Lawmakers and White House Have Been Warned of Petraeus Investigation?

November 13, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more, we turn once again tonight to Sari Horwitz, an investigative reporter at The Washington Post.

So, potentially inappropriate communications between General Allen and Jill Kelley, what does that mean? What do we know so far?

SARI HORWITZ, The Washington Post: Well, it’s interesting, because one man’s potentially inappropriate e-mail is another’s friendly banter, maybe flirtatious banter.

But people in the Allen camp in Washington and people who represent Kelley — she’s hired a lawyer and a P.R. representative — both people say that there was no inappropriate relationship. There was no affair. It was a platonic friendship.

It’s so interesting because this scandal that is rocking Washington and has led to the downfall of Petraeus and is raising questions about John Allen all started with this Tampa party social scene in which Jill Kelley was the key player.

JEFFREY BROWN: What do we know about Jill Kelley at this point?

SARI HORWITZ: Well, here’s what we know.

She was an ad hoc kind of social ambassador with the military and their wives, the generals based in Tampa. She was a volunteer at the MacDill Air Force base, which is located next to her mansion. She and her husband, Scott, who is a surgeon in Tampa, threw these lavish parties with the military, cigars and champagne and string quartets.

And they were friends. They socialized. And she obviously liked to send e-mails. She sent many, many e-mails to General Allen. We have heard 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents. Those aren’t all e-mails, but many of them are e-mails.

JEFFREY BROWN: Clarity that a little bit, because there’s been a lot of to and fro on it; 20,000 to 30,000 sounds like an awful lot.

SARI HORWITZ: I think it’s more accurate to say 20,000 to 30,000 pages of information, probably hundreds of e-mails between them.

And, you know, some of them are friendly. We know that he used the word “sweetheart” in one or two or three of them, maybe more.

But what his friends say is that he was sort of a gentleman, a Southern gentleman. That’s a term he would use, and that it’s really just a friendship and a platonic relationship.

JEFFREY BROWN: I’m sorry. Continue.

SARI HORWITZ: Well, the FBI turned over this information to the Department of Defense because there are no criminal charges. There is no national security at issue is what they tell me.

But they thought that the Department of Defense should have this material because it does have to do with a key commander.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that’s exactly what I was going to ask you about, turning it — that decision to turn it over.

Let me ask you about the other, as we said at the end of that piece, the strange aspect of the FBI agent who first was contacted by Jill Kelley and their relationship, such as it is or might be. What do we know? And does that have any particular bearing on all this? Or is that just a — as we said, a strange detail?

SARI HORWITZ: Strange detail. He’s an interesting character in this whole story because it may not have become public if not for that agent.

He was also part of the Tampa social scene. He was friends with Jill Kelley. And, as friends, they were talking in June. And she said, you know, I’m getting all these really bizarre, harassing e-mails. What should I do? And he said, I will take it to the bureau.

And he takes to it the Tampa office of the FBI to the cyber-crime division, which they have there. But he wasn’t one of the investigators on the case. He brought it to them, but then the case moved forward. He later learned from the agents that it involved Broadwell, because they uncovered the tie to Broadwell, and it involved Petraeus.

And he was upset at the slow pace that he believed the investigation was taking. He was frustrated. He called a friend of his, who called a lawmaker in Washington state, who called Eric Cantor on Capitol Hill. And this agent said, this could be a matter of national security. What are we doing about this? It involves General Petraeus.

And Eric Cantor’s chief of staff then called the chief of staff of the FBI director, Robert Mueller.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, speaking of Broadwell, you’re going back to where things stand on the Petraeus investigation. What do we know about why FBI people were at her house? What were they looking for last night? What was that all about?

SARI HORWITZ: That was another fascinating development last night that happened late. And that is part of the ongoing investigation.

While General Allen is not part of the ongoing Justice investigation, Paula Broadwell still is. She had classified documents, they discovered, in the course of looking at her e-mails. She had classified documents. In her interview with the FBI, Broadwell said that she didn’t get the documents from General Petraeus. They interviewed General Petraeus, who said he didn’t give the documents to Paula Broadwell.

So the question for the FBI is where is she getting the classified documents and why does she have them? It wasn’t a raid. She gave them the keys to her house.

They went — the FBI in Charlotte, N.C., where she lives — They went with boxes. It was pretty dramatic for the press there. They took photographs of the outside and the inside of their house. They had big duffel bags. They took out all the documents.

And they’re trying to find out if there was some kind of security breach with these classified documents.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, a lot to keep up with.

Sari Horwitz, thanks again from The Washington Post. Thanks so much.

SARI HORWITZ: Sure. Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Meanwhile, House and Senate leaders are complaining that Congress and the White House were kept out of the loop on these high-profile investigations. We wondered, how does that work?

For that, we turn to Jane Harman, the former ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, now CEO of the WoodrowWilsonCenter, and Matthew Miller, who served as director of public affairs for Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice until last year.

Matthew Miller, is there anything unusual in that story that Sari just laid out for us about how this case and how this investigation unfolded? Is there anything about the way that played out which strikes you as unusual?

MATTHEW MILLER, former Department of Justice official: I think everything about this case is unusual.

There’s not a lot of precedent to look at with a case like this. It really does seem to be an unprecedented case. But you look at the principles that the department follows when they conduct these types of investigations.

And one of the principles that they follow is that they don’t share information about ongoing criminal investigations with people outside law enforcement while those investigations are being conducted. And they do that for a couple of reasons.

One, quite frankly, is to protect the reputation of people who may have committed no crime, but would see their reputations unfairly maligned. The second is to insulate their investigations from any political pressure.

And so, particularly when it’s a member of the administration being investigated, it’s dangerous. If you brief other people in the administration, if you brief other people in Congress, you could potentially see those investigations politicized.

GWEN IFILL: Jane Harman, how does that strike you? Is that in keeping with the way you have seen these kinds of cases handled?

JANE HARMAN, former U.S. representative, D-Calif.: Well, I was the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee for four years. I served on the committee for eight years.

And in my ranking member position, I and the chairman were briefed regularly by the FBI on pending high-level cases. But those cases involved counterintelligence or counterterrorism. I don’t think that was this case.

I do think there are bizarre issues here. It started out, so far as I can tell — and I’m not sure I have got it all down here — as an investigation into alleged cyber-stalking by Paula Broadwell. And that led to the rest of this material.

As Matthew Miller just said, if a crime was being — an alleged crime was being investigated, it would be improper to tell anybody about it. And that could blow the investigation.

There also wasn’t so far as anyone has said any counterterrorism or counterintelligence charge against David Petraeus. So, at that point, I see no reason why Congress should have been told about it.

However, at some point, the FBI not only told a couple members of Congress, including Eric Cantor, but then told the director of national intelligence, Jim Clapper, about Petraeus’ involvement.

And I think Congress has every right to understand what this process was, who this perhaps rogue agent who — and I just learned from your broadcast was friendly with the other woman involved here.

Congress has every right to get to the bottom. And I think that closed hearings, which Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Saxby Chambliss, the ranking member — bipartisan closed hearings are the way to go.

And when there is more information, hopefully, this feeding frenzy about material that at least I would hope would take up less time on our airwaves very soon will end.

GWEN IFILL: So, Matthew Miller, are you saying that the circumstances under which Congress would be notified would be that there had to be proof, some conclusion that there was criminality involved?

MATTHEW MILLER: I think if there had been — if they had developed information that there was an active national security threat, they likely would have briefed the Intelligence Committee, as they’re required to under law.

But they — this started, as the congresswoman said, as a cyber-stalking investigation. They then moved to look and see whether any classified information had been improperly disclosed.

GWEN IFILL: Would a cyber-stalking investigation be treated differently than a national — potential national security breach?

MATTHEW MILLER: Sure, of course. When they started this, they thought this was a complaint from one woman not really connected to the government about anonymous harassment e-mails. They only later learned of General Petraeus’ involvement, and it was even later than that they learned of the affair, and actually not until late October that the general confirmed that he had had an affair, at which time I think they faced the choice.

It seemed like they were sure by then they weren’t going to charge anyone with a crime. And they had to decide what to do with the information about the general’s affair. And they eventually notified the director of national intelligence.

GWEN IFILL: Jane Harman, Nancy Pelosi said today — and Dianne Feinstein is not happy either — said today that it would have been nice to hear about this before she heard about it on TV.

Now, at what point — explain to the people who don’t get the way this works what the oversight role is of these congressional committees, when they’re supposed to be told and when it would be politically unadvantageous in terms of looking like, if you were trying to taint an investigation, not to tell members?

JANE HARMAN: Well, I think I answered most of that in my last answer.

But if it’s an ongoing criminal investigation not involving the head of the CIA or somebody of that kind, I don’t know what the obligation was to tell Congress anything.

By the time, however, that this perhaps rogue FBI agent in Florida who lived in Tampa and was friendly with the other woman involved in all this called Dave Reichert, a former sheriff and member of Congress from Washington state, who called Eric Cantor, then this was a highly irregular process.

And going to Jim Clapper when the FBI did, on Election Day, I don’t quite understand that either. So, I, at this point, feel strongly, as Dianne Feinstein does, that her committee has a right to understand what the process was, whether it complied with FBI procedure. I think some pieces of this didn’t, and to learn all the material.

GWEN IFILL: You mentioned…

JANE HARMAN: Now, as I said before, though, Gwen, Congress is typically not advised. And I don’t see why the Intelligence Committees would be advised.

GWEN IFILL: But you mentioned the Election Day notification, Jane Harman. I wonder, are you worried at all that there may be at least the appearance of a political taint here?

JANE HARMAN: Well, it was Election Day. I somehow think there may be the appearance of it, but I don’t think that was anybody’s intention. I think this was strange.

And I think Congress should get to the bottom of it. And on an ongoing basis, if there are investigations that involve the transfer of classified material involving high-level officials or members of Congress, absolutely, Congress has to be briefed, and surely in a more timely way. Congress shouldn’t be playing catchup. That’s obviously something Congress hates.

But, again, to put this in perspective, Dave Petraeus has resigned. There are some issues about whether he had to resign. I assume that was his personal decision. And it was the recommendation of Jim Clapper that he do so.

There will be an orderly transition at the CIA. I am on the CIA External Board. I’m also a personal friend of Holly and Dave Petraeus’. So, I have to say that.

But I think, before this happened, Dave Petraeus brought a different style to the CIA, but was doing a very good job of formulating strategic directions for the CIA and staying on top of the world hot spots, something he’s very good at.

Our intelligence products are better and better. There are obviously lapses. We will have to learn more about the Benghazi situation.

But, by and large, the CIA is doing an excellent job. As we speak, there are CIA employees and assets working around the world to keep us safe. And they should know that this, what I would call a media circus will end soon. And…

GWEN IFILL: Matthew Miller, can I ask you about something which has been overlooked a little bit in this? And that’s the degree to which government has access to private e-mails, to private exchanges. It seems we’re finding out that there was an awful lot of that. Is that unusual? Is that something people should be more aware of?

MATTHEW MILLER: Well, I think what people need to understand is that the government only has access to those — to their private e-mails through lawfully authorized channels.

And in this case, it appears that they got a search warrant approved by a court to access these e-mails, which they did, not because they were trying to find out whether David Petraeus an affair, but because they were worried about cyber-stalking allegations against Jill Kelley in Florida.

So they were investigating a crime and pursuing avenues of investigation that they do in other circumstances. But, certainly, people, you know, do need to be aware that, you know, if you’re committing a crime, you don’t want to do it over e-mail because the government will find out.

GWEN IFILL: Matthew Miller, former DOJ, and Jane Harman, former House member, thank you both very much.


JEFFREY BROWN: Online, we have updated the timeline of events in the unfolding scandal.