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President Barack Obama said he isn’t aware of any evidence that the expanding sex scandal that caused the resignation of CIA Director David H. Petraeus has compromised U.S. national security.
“I have no evidence at this point from what I’ve seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security,” Obama said at a White House news conference yesterday.
Obama didn’t question the FBI’s decision to wait several months to inform the White House of the investigation into harassing e-mails that led to the discovery of Petraeus’s affair.
“One of the challenges here is that we’re not supposed to meddle in, you know, criminal investigations, and that’s been our practice,” he said. Lawmakers have said the FBI should have informed the White House and Congress sooner.
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Obama’s remarks were his first public comments on the Federal Bureau of Investigation probe since Petraeus, a retired Army general, resigned from the Central Intelligence Agency on Nov. 9.
The investigation also ensnared Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan -- and his nominee to serve as NATO Supreme Allied Commander -- Marine General John R. Allen.
Petraeus’s affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and the Allen investigation have complicated matters for Obama as he weighs an overhaul of his Cabinet at the start of his second term. It’s also a distraction as negotiations begin between the president and Congress on a deficit-reduction deal to avert $607 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts next year.
Allen exchanged e-mails with the Florida woman whose complaint sparked the FBI probe that led to Petraeus’s downfall. The Pentagon’s inspector general is reviewing more than 20,000 pages of documents turned over by the FBI, according to a U.S. defense official.
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Allen “intends to fully cooperate” with the inspector general’s investigation and has directed his staff to do so as well, according to a statement from his lawyer, Marine Colonel John Baker.
Congress this week is also reviewing the circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday Petraeus is “willing to come before the committee” to discuss the attack in Libya.
Allen, 58, became entangled in the Petraeus scandal because of e-mail messages he exchanged with Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Florida, woman who described herself as a friend of Petraeus and has hosted parties for military officers at her waterfront home near MacDill Air Force Base.
Kelley set the Petraeus scandal in motion with a complaint to the FBI about threatening e-mails she received earlier this year. The FBI traced the messages to Broadwell, a 40-year-old West Point graduate who began working on her biography of Petraeus, 60, when he was the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
There is no indication that the e-mails between Allen and Kelley suggest a physical relationship between the two, according to a Defense Department official.
Obama has placed Allen’s nomination as supreme allied commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on hold.
Petraeus, who has admitted to the extramarital affair, rose to the rank of four-star general and led the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before leaving to head the CIA.
The Charlotte, North Carolina, home of Broadwell, who hasn’t commented since the disclosure of the affair, was searched on Nov. 12 by FBI agents looking for improperly held classified material, according to a law enforcement official.
While the FBI found a significant volume of classified information on a personal computer Broadwell used, there doesn’t appear to be a major security breach, said an official who was briefed on the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
After FBI agents discovered the classified material, her Defense Department security clearance was revoked, said a U.S. military official who was briefed on the case. The FBI is continuing to probe how Broadwell obtained some of the classified material and whether any came from Petraeus.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said there are still unanswered questions about why Congress wasn’t notified about Petraeus’s affair, though the California lawmaker said she has no reason to believe there was any breach of national security.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, sent letters yesterday to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller asking why lawmakers weren’t immediately informed of the probe.
Mueller was among the officials who went to Capitol Hill yesterday to brief lawmakers on the investigation. He was joined by Michael Morell, the acting CIA director.
U.S. lawmakers, who returned to Washington this week after recessing in late September for the election, will consider the Petraeus scandal among other national security issues, including the Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed American ambassador Chris Stevens.
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee held a closed-door briefing yesterday on the Benghazi attack. At least three congressional committees have scheduled hearings on Benghazi today. The House intelligence committee will hear from Petraeus at a closed meeting tomorrow.
The Senate and House intelligence committees are concerned, among other things, about security precautions at the U.S. facility in Benghazi.
Feinstein’s Senate panel will hear from Morell, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Matt Olsen, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
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