Petraeus' Downfall May Have Grown Out Of Jealousy

The downfall of CIA Director David Petraeus appears to have grown out of jealousy. He had been having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and she allegedly sent harassing emails to a woman in Florida she thought was too close to Petraeus. Now the discussion is turning to what people knew and when they knew it and why this explosive story came out just days after the election. Audie Cornish talks to Dina Temple-Raston.

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We have more details now on the resignation of former CIA director David Petraeus. His downfall appears to have grown out of jealousy. Petraeus had been having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and she allegedly sent harassing emails to a woman she thought was too close to Petraeus.

The question now is whether officials notified the appropriate people about what was going on. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston has been following the story and joins us now. And, Dina, the FBI says they were not investigating General Petraeus. How, then, do they get involved in a simple harassment case? Why did it happen?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, probably for two reasons: The first is that this woman was being harassed in Florida, Jill Kelly, was friends with an FBI agent and apparently told him that she was worried about these anonymous emails that were telling her to quote, "stay away from my guy," unquote. So she had this connection. And then this crime, cyber harassment, is actually a federal offense, so that's why the FBI would get involved. The case was originally opened as a cyber harassment case.

CORNISH: And so they essentially traced the emails?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes. Our sources say it took weeks to trace these emails to Paula Broadwell. They came from a dummy account. And the FBI basically had to figure out what cities they were sent from, and then they ended up matching those cities to Broadwell's whereabouts. So that would actually take the investigation to the summer.

What really changed was when they discovered that these explicit emails that not only suggested that there was an affair but made FBI agents think that someone had hacked into Petraeus' personal account. And the investigators just couldn't believe that Petraeus would be writing these kinds of emails, so it must have been some hacker, and that's what they were looking for. And that's when the investigation went from a plain vanilla harassment case to a natural security one.

CORNISH: So is there any sense that there could have been a security breach?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the law enforcement officials I've talked to have said no. But there's certainly some grey area here. I mean, Paula Broadwell gave a speech at the University of Denver last month. And in that talk, she addressed the Benghazi attack from September. And she talked about details that suggested she had some inside information. So it raises a question of whether Petraeus may have revealed classified information to her.

And you can see how anything Broadwell said with regard to national security over the past year is now going to be scrutinized in a new way. There's another thing that's important. The case which we classified as a natural security case this summer, our sources tell us that that would mean that the Justice Department was probably notified at that point.

CORNISH: So what have you learned at this point about what the attorney general knew about the case?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we actually don't know exactly when he learned about it. The former Justice Department officials that I talked to said that it would be inconceivable that this case didn't go up to the highest levels of Justice as soon as it was clear that David Petraeus was involved. The Justice Department isn't saying exactly when the attorney general, Eric Holder, learned about all of this. We're trying to find that out.

CORNISH: And now you have members of Congress, the intelligence committees, who are saying that they should have been notified too.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the people I've spoken to are less certain about that. I know that Senator Dianne Feinstein of California said that the administration should have told Congress about anything that was a major intelligence activity. But several former officials I talked to, both Republicans and Democrats, said they're not sure that the Petraeus affair qualifies. And if the FBI felt there wasn't a security breach, they wouldn't necessarily brief members of Congress. My understanding was that this was incredibly closely held for obvious reasons.

CORNISH: Was there any requirement for the FBI or Justice Department to inform the White House sooner than they say they did?

TEMPLE-RASTON: You know, everyone is saying that the White House wasn't informed until after the election. And on one hand, there are those who think that there is an obligation to inform the White House as soon as possible if a key official is under investigation. But on the other hand, there's been this tradition of insulating these kinds of investigations so there aren't attempts to influence them, so this kind of cuts both ways.

CORNISH: NPR's Dina Temple-Raston. Thanks, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome.

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