The sexual affair that forced the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus was one of the worst-kept secrets in Washington, or at least that's what The New York Times would have us believe.
In a report published yesterday, the paper said that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia had a discussion about the matter with an FBI official in October. The Times' implication is clear: leaders on both sides of the Congressional aisle were aware of Petraeus's misdeeds, but said nothing with the election looming.
But, as with many accounts offered up by the NYT, you need to read a little further to get to the gist of the story; here's a CNN account of the latest twist, based on the paper's original article:
[Cantor spokesman] Doug Heye said the Congressman had a conversation with the whistleblower about the affair and the national security concerns involved in the matter (emphasis ours).
The New York Times reported Saturday that on October 31, Cantor's chief of staff phoned the FBI to inform the agency about the call between the Congressman and the FBI official. The Times reported Cantor learned of the whistleblower through Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Washington.
A spokesman for Reichert told CNN Sunday that the Times article was accurate, but that the Congressman had no further comment on his involvement in the case.
The key word, obviously, is whistleblower. Why did an FBI official approach Congressman Reichert when the bureau had been investigating the Petraeus matter for months? Why didn't the official simply raise his concerns internally?
One possibility is the official was concerned about how the probe was being handled, and feared recrimination if he or she voiced their objections at the bureau. Congressman Reichert does not serve on the House Intelligence Committee, but is co-chair of the Law Enforcement Caucus and was sheriff of King County, Washington before being elected to Congress. It's rather curious that Reichert referred the matter to Cantor; perhaps he thought the matter was so serious that (a) Congressional leadership needed to hear the the whistleblower's story, and (b) the FBI would pay more attention if the concern was voiced by the majority leader and not an "ordinary" member of the House.
The timing of Mr. Cantor's involvement is equally interesting. Both the Washington Post and the NYT confirm that the majority leader contacted the bureau in late October, a little more than a week before the presidential election. By that time (according to earlier reports), the investigation had been underway for several months. Was the FBI official that approached Congressman Reichert worried that the bureau was about to sweep the affair under the rug, or was it a set-up, aimed at creating "bi-partisan" knowledge of the matter, less than two weeks before Petraeus's affair would become public knowledge?
Here's another reason to keep the Cantor timeline in mind: the same Washington Post account insists that both the President and the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, did not learn of the investigation until election night:
A senior administration official defended the decision not to notify the president earlier, saying staffers "needed to get their arms around" the matter before briefing Obama, who had returned from his election trip to Chicago on Wednesday night.
So, in other words, the nation's highest-ranking intelligence officer and the commander-in-chief didn't learn of the Petraeus investigation until Tuesday night? Call that one highly implausible, to say the least.
Lest we forget, the probe into the CIA Director's activities began over concerns that his e-mail had been hacked, and sensitive information might have been compromised. Yet, neither the FBI Director or his boss, the attorney general, saw any need to notify the DNI or the President? If that's the case, then Eric Holder and Robert Muller should be fired immediately for gross incompetence.
Of course, Mr. Holder is no stranger to controversy, or putting his department in the midst of a political imbroglio. If the "Fast and the Furious" scandal is any indication, Mr. Holder knew about the Petraeus affair long before the final stages of the presidential campaign--and so did the White House. Mr. Mueller, on the other hand, is well-regarded in Washington and has done a credible job running the FBI; given his track record, it's difficult to envision the bureau conducting a probe of General Petraeus without Mueller's knowledge. In fact, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that Mr. Holder was aware of the investigation "for several months." That means that Mr. Mueller was in the loop as well.
If the "who knew" (and when) timeline already seems a bit shaky, one thing is clear: David Petraeus will not be testifying before Congress on the Benghazi scandal anytime soon. Appearing on ABC's This Week, Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss (the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee) said General Petraeus will "eventually" testify on the matter, but he is not expected to appear during closed-door hearings this week. "He's trying to put his life back together and that's what he needs to focus on," Chambliss said. The committee chairman, Senator Diane Feinstein of California, offered similar thoughts on CBS's Face the Nation.
That puts Republicans in a rather inconvenient position. If Petraeus doesn't testify soon, the investigation loses steam and it may prove impossible to sort out what happened at Benghazi. But if they subpoena the former CIA Director, they will lose the public relations battle, viewed as "harassing" a military hero at a low point in his life. And rest assured, the White House is shrewdly calculating that Congressional Republicans--one week after a major electoral defeat--won't pressure Petraeus to testify.
If it all seems a little pat, give yourself a gold star and move to the head of the class. It's evident that many in the administration don't want General Petraeus appearing before Congress in the near future. And one reason was provided, strangely enough, by the CIA Director's former paramour, Paula Broadwell. Israel National News reporter Gil Ronen was (apparently) the first journalist to discover a lecture Ms. Broadwell delivered at her alma mater, the University of Denver, on October 26th.
Broadwell's address, part of an annual alumni seminar, have been posted at YouTube. Beginning at 34:52 into her remarks, Broadwell answers a question concerning General Petraeus and the Benghazi incident. She affirms the CIA Director was aware of requests for assistance from American personnel on the ground, then adds a couple of tantalizing details: first, the CIA was holding two Libyan prisoners at the Benghazi annex, which was attacked after the consulate fell. That certainly provides another rationale for the assault on the annex.
To our knowledge, no one has previously acknowledged the presence of Libyan prisoners at that facility. That sort of information would come from someone in a position to know--say, the CIA Director. It also suggests that the affair between Broadwell and Petraeus did not end (as originally reported) when the retired general took over the agency in 2011. Divulging that type of "insider" information indicates that Petraeus and Broadwell were in regular contact through the attack in Benghazi and discussed events that transpired on the night of September 11th. Yet, the FBI claims that national security wasn't jeopardized by their relationship. Based on the prisoners claim, it sounds like Congressional Republicans should add one more name to their witness list--Paula Broadwell.
In her Denver speech, Ms. Broadwell also revealed that besieged CIA operatives in Benghazi made a specific request for a "command in-extremis force." These elite units, assigned to every regional command, consist of Delta Force operators and other special forces personnel. One of their specialties is providing quick reaction assistance to American facilities under attack.
Why is that nugget so important? According to the official Pentagon timeline, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta (and other senior officials) discussed the deployment of SF assets from Croatia and the United States to Benghazi, if violence flared anew. The discussions took part between midnight and 2 am (Benghazi time) on September 12th. The in-extremis force is never mentioned, assuming it is not the unit that was training in Croatia at that time.
And that, in turn, leads to another report that has been making the rounds since the Benghazi incident occurred. Some in military circles claim there was a sharp disagreement between officials in Washington and General Carter Ham, the commander of U.S. Africa Command. Libya is part of AFRICOM's geographic region, and the "in-extremis" force that would have been dispatched belonged to General Ham. The CINC reportedly wanted to send forces to Benghazi, but was told to stand down by his superiors in Washington. We should note that these claims have been sharply denied by the Pentagon. It was also announced late last month that General Ham will be leaving his post in March 2013, well ahead of schedule. DoD spokesmen told the Washington Times the leadership change was in the works well before Benghazi, though Ham's tenure will be shorter than other MAJCOM leaders.
"Curiouser and curiouser," as Lewis Carroll's Alice once observed. This much we know: the Petraeus scandal--and its connection to events in Benghazi--won't magically disappear, as much as the Obama Administration might prefer. General Petraeus is going through a rough patch right now--completely of his own making--but that doesn't negate his obligation to testify before Congress. Republicans in the House and Senate should demand that he appear this week, and issue a subpoena, if necessary. The families of four dead Americans deserve that much.