WASHINGTON • President Barack Obama says he has no evidence that the scandal that ended former Gen. David Petraeus’ career had a negative impact on national security.
In his first comments on the scandal, Obama tells a White House news conference that from what he’s seen, no classified information was disclosed that would harm national security.
The president spoke five days after Petraeus resigned as head of the Central Intelligence Agency after disclosing he had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Earlier, legislators met behind closed doors with top FBI and CIA officials Wednesday to tease out more details about the government investigation that led to the resignation Petraeus and uncovered suggestive emails between the U.S. general commanding the war in Afghanistan and a Florida socialite.
The lawmakers are trying to determine if national security was threatened by the widening sex scandal, and why legislators weren’t notified about the investigation sooner.
“We’re going to get to the facts,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said before the meeting. “We’re going to get to the bottom of all these issues.”
The panel first met on Capitol Hill with FBI Director Robert Mueller and deputy FBI Director Sean Joyce, and then with acting CIA Director Michael Morell.
Just down Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House, President Barack Obama was expected to make his first comments on the widening scandal during a postelection news conference.
Morell started answering lawmakers’ questions Tuesday, meeting with top Senate intelligence officials to explain the CIA’s take on events that led to Petraeus’ resignation last week after he acknowledged having an affair his biographer, Broadwell.
Lawmakers are especially concerned over reports that Broadwell had classified information on her laptop, though FBI investigators say they concluded there was no security breach.
U.S. officials say Broadwell sent harassing, anonymous emails to a woman she apparently saw as a rival for Petraeus’ affections. That woman, Jill Kelley, in turn traded sometimes flirtatious messages with Afghan war chief Gen. John Allen, possible evidence of another inappropriate relationship.
Officials who have seen the communications between Allen and Kelley describe some of their emails as overly flirtatious and “suggestive,” and say their release would be embarrassing for the general.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein was asked by reporters if there was a national security breach with the Petraeus affair and said she had “no evidence that there was at this time.”
Feinstein said Wednesday that Petraeus would testify before Congress — but not about the affair. She said he’d agreed to appear about the Libya attack on Sept. 11 that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, but said no date had been set.
The Senate Armed Services Committee planned to go ahead with Thursday’s scheduled confirmation hearing on the nomination of Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, who is to replace Allen as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, if Allen is indeed promoted.
Obama had hoped to use the afternoon news conference, his first since his re-election, to build support for his economic proposals heading into negotiations with lawmakers on the so-called “fiscal cliff.” But the scandal could overshadow his economic agenda this week, derail plans for a smooth transition in his national security team and complicate war planning during a critical time in the Afghanistan war effort.
Allen has been allowed to stay in his job as commander of the Afghan war and provide a leading voice in White House discussions on how many troops will remain in Afghanistan — and for what purposes — after the U.S.-led combat operation ends in 2014. The White House said the investigation would not delay Allen’s recommendation to Obama on the next phase of the U.S. troop drawdown from Afghanistan, nor would it delay the president’s decision on the matter. Allen’s recommendation is expected before the end of the year.
But Obama did put on hold Allen’s nomination to become the next commander of U.S. European Command as well as the NATO supreme allied commander in Europe, at the request of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, until Pentagon investigators are able to sift through the 20,000-plus pages of documents and emails that involve Allen and Kelley.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Wednesday that he had “full confidence” in Allen and looked forward to working with him if he is ultimately confirmed.
The FBI decided to turn over the Allen information to the military once the bureau recognized it contained no evidence of a federal crime, according to a federal law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the matter on the record and demanded anonymity. Adultery, however, is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Allen, 58, worked to save his imperiled career. He told Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he is innocent of misconduct, according to Col. David Lapan, Dempsey’s spokesman.
At a news conference Wednesday in Perth, Australia, Panetta said, “No one should leap to any conclusions,” and said he is fully confident in Allen’s ability to continue to lead in Afghanistan. He added that putting a hold on Allen’s European Command nomination was the “prudent” thing to do.
Known as a close friend of Petraeus, Kelley, 37, triggered the FBI investigation that led to the retired four-star general’s downfall as CIA director when she complained about getting anonymous, harassing emails. They turned out to have been written by Broadwell, who apparently was jealous of the attention the general paid to Kelley.
In the course of looking into that matter, federal investigators came across what a Pentagon official called potentially inappropriate communications between Allen and Kelley, both of them married.
Kelley served as a sort of social ambassador for U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., hosting parties for Petraeus when he was commander there from 2008-10. The friendship with the Petraeus began when they arrived in Tampa, and the Kelleys threw a welcome party at their home, a short distance from Central Command headquarters, introducing the new chief and his wife, Holly, to Tampa’s elite, according to staffers who served with Petraeus.
Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek, Lolita Baldor, Pete Yost, Adam Goldman, Jack Gillum, Larry Margasak, Julie Pace, Donna Cassata, Jim Abrams, Robert Burns and Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report.