STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Some members of Congress want to know why they didn't know about all this sooner. It is clear that the FBI, and prosecutors at the Justice Department, were investigating General Petraeus - and others - well before the election. Most lawmakers did not know about it until afterward; and nor, apparently, did the president of the United States. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: In Washington scandals, the question is usually what the White House knew. But in the case of former Central Intelligence Director David Petraeus, lawmakers are asking why President Obama did not know about a federal investigation that had found evidence Petraeus was having an affair. Peter King is a Republican U.S. House member, from New York. Here he is, on MSNBC.
(SOUNDBITE OF MSNBC BROADCAST)
REP. PETER KING: Once the FBI realized that it was investigating the director of the CIA - or the CIA director had come within its focus, or its scope - I believe at that time, they had an absolute obligation to tell the president; not to protect David Petraeus, but to protect the president.
JOHNSON: Matthew Miller worked as a top aide to Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department. He couldn't disagree more.
MATTHEW MILLER: If the Justice Department is investigating a member of the administration, they don't want to notify other people in the administration. In fact, if they had notified the White House while this investigation was ongoing, you'd hear howls from members of Congress that the investigation might have been politicized.
JOHNSON: There's another reason for not sharing leads more widely, Miller says. Sometimes, the FBI investigates, and the allegations don't pan out - or they don't merit any criminal charges. Law-enforcement sources tell NPR, that appears to be the case here. The White House says Mr. Obama was first briefed on the case last Thursday, even though federal investigators started looking into what would become the Petraeus case, about six months ago.
The FBI probe started with a woman in Florida ,who socializes with the Petraeus family. She told a friend in the bureau, she had received some bothersome email messages. Investigators traced the messages to Paula Broadwell, author of a biography of Petraeus. And in an email account, the FBI found communications that depicted an affair between the two.
Senior Justice Department officials were alerted in the late summer - before FBI agents interviewed key players, in September and October. The last interview was within days of the election. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden told Fox News, he still has lots of questions.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
MICHAEL HAYDEN: It's mysterious. I really don't have insight into it. It appears that the bureau was balancing the law-enforcement process, the privacy of some individuals involved. But hanging out there is that requirement, in law, to keep the intelligence committees fully and currently informed about significant intelligence activities.
JOHNSON: That requirement is found in the National Security Act, and in an executive order on U.S. intelligence activities that dates back to the Ronald Reagan era. Law-enforcement officials say they didn't tell Congress because Petraeus was a witness - not a target - in an ongoing criminal investigation. And until very recently, agents were still trying to figure out whether anyone broke any laws. Under Justice Department guidelines, authorities are barred from sharing information even with most people in the White House, unless there's a national security exception. Bobby Chesney teaches law at the University of Texas. Chesney says there's an obvious national security issue, when the CIA director appears on law-enforcement radar.
BOBBY CHESNEY: But whether there was ever a formal, statutory obligation to give that reporting from the FBI to the intelligence committees, for example - that's far from clear.
JOHNSON: Former CIA Director Hayden says it is clear, law enforcement was in a tough spot.
(SOUNDBITE OF FOX NEWS BROADCAST)
HAYDEN: This is an unprecedented sort of thing. There's no rule book, or history, as to how you handle these kinds of events.
JOHNSON: Tomorrow, officials from the CIA, and the FBI, will hold private meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and maybe start the process of rewriting that rule book, should they ever need it again.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.