by Edward-Isaac Dovere and Josh Gerstein

November 10, 2012

from Politico Website






Resignations over scandals often raise more questions than they answer, and that's true of Gen. David Petraeus's abrupt exit from the Central Intelligence Agency.

Some have already been put to rest: Paula Broadwell, the author of "All In - The Education of David Petraeus," has been identified as the woman at the center of the FBI email probe that ultimately toppled him.

But many questions remain.

Here are POLITICO's six most important:

1. Why resign now?

The Obama administration's first sex scandal exploded just three days after the president was reelected at the end of a hard-fought campaign and just days before Petraeus was scheduled to appear at a congressional hearing about the attacks in Benghazi.

The White House says no one there knew about the Petraeus situation before Wednesday and the president himself was informed Thursday.


But if the story had broken a week earlier, those headlines would have overtaken much of the president's message about the middle class and his work in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.


Who made the decision to wait, and why, is going to be the subject of scrutiny as this scandal continues to unfold. Petraeus's departure now has also thrown a whole new pile of grist into the Benghazi controversy.


Already, the attack that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others was being called an intelligence failure - both the failure to anticipate it and the decision to identify it as a riot rather than a terrorist attack.

Acting CIA Director Michael Morrell, Petraeus's deputy, will go to the Hill instead for Thursday's hearing. B


ut already, there's a clear sense that going public with his affair and resigning from his job isn't enough to get Petraeus off the hook.

"David Petraeus testifying has nothing to do with whether or not he's still the CIA director, and I don't see how the CIA can say he's not going to testify," House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-N.Y.) told CNN.


"He was at the center of this and he has answers that only he has."



2. What else was part of the FBI probe?

The FBI's toppling of the CIA director seems like the ultimate in intelligence sibling rivalries. It didn't start that way.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that the FBI investigation began because a woman close to Petraeus sought protection after receiving several threatening emails from Broadwell.


After a deeper look at the general's personal email account, there were initially questions about whether it had been hacked.


But investigators soon concluded from the content of the emails that they were evidence of an affair between Petraeus and Broadwell. According to the Post, weeks of probing culminated Tuesday, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was told that compromising material had been found.


Clapper subsequently told Petraeus to resign.

A senior intelligence official denied reports that Clapper ordered Petraeus to resign but acknowledged that Clapper pushed the CIA director in that direction.

"Director Clapper urged Director Petraeus to step down. He was doing that as a friend, as a colleague, as a fellow retired general officer and as an admirer," said the senior official, who asked not to be named.


"This was a conversation between two friends and colleagues."

The official declined to discuss why Clapper thought Petraeus should resign.

The Post report opens up other questions:

  • Who was the woman who received the emails from Broadwell?

  • What was sent from Petraeus's account?

  • Was there broader access to his email, as indicated by other reports?

  • And beyond the emails indicating an affair, was there any indication of impropriety on Petraeus's part?

Especially in the wake of the WikiLeaks scandal, the military and intelligence agencies have been taking new measures in shoring up security, which includes additional tracing and logging to track things like information being moved to personal email accounts.

A government official who asked not to be named told POLITICO Friday that the probe that led to Petraeus's resignation arose out of another investigation.


The official would not be more specific.


3. Did he think the story was about to leak?

Petraeus appears to have successfully kept the situation quiet for months, if not longer.


He had known for all that time that he was violating the moral and professional code that he cited in his message to CIA employees Friday. And he knew for weeks that the FBI was looking into the situation.

But something made him come forward now.

The larger circumstances of the election and next week's hearing might be pure coincidences. Members of Congress were this week informed of the situation, and that's a tried and tested way for information, especially juicy information, to leak out. Add to that their frustration at not being told until now, and the possibilities increase exponentially.

The FBI had been asking questions, too. That created a dilemma for a man whose professional rise has been intertwined with his sterling personal standing: risk being hounded by a story someone else defined, or step forward for the fall himself by getting out ahead of it and trying to take control?

And those aren't the only options for who might have spoken up.


Both Petraeus and Broadwell are married, with wide networks of friends and acquaintances who might have discovered what was going on.


In a situation as tabloid-friendly as this - high-profile government official with a reputation to rival G.I. Joe's, intelligence tie-in, journalistic compromise - it wouldn't have taken much to stoke the fires.


4. Why weren't Obama and the Hill committees told earlier?

Members of Congress haven't said much beyond a few press releases praising Petraeus that went out Friday afternoon. But they're more than a little frustrated that they didn't learn about the affair and the investigation until this week.

Still, the FBI has said this wasn't a criminal investigation into Petraeus.


If Petraeus didn't do anything that was actionable to dismiss him from the job, then members will have to explain what they feel should have been reported.


Should they have been told there was a possibility that the CIA director's email had been hacked, and that he might be in a compromising situation?

"We were told they were not going after Petraeus and they sort of came across it in some unrelated fashion," said one congressional staffer, who asked not to be named.

The staffer said intelligence committee members would expect to know if the CIA director himself were being probed, but that doesn't sound like what was happening here - at least initially.

"If they were investigating Petraeus directly, of course, they would have to let the committee know," the aide said. "It depends how they came across it and when."

Steve Aftergood, who studies intelligence issues for the Federation of American Scientists, noted that by law, Congress is required to be informed about,

"significant intelligence activities or failures, but significant is left undefined and in the eye of the beholder."

"Beyond the letter of the law, there's a prudential obligation to keep the committees ahead of the curve and, evidently they don't feel that job was fulfilled in this case," Aftergood said.


"There's also a question of whether it's wise to inform more people about the existence of the investigation when you're not sure where it's headed. I'm not absolutely certain the FBI should have gone to Congress earlier."

Aftergood noted that what the situation might boil down to is that,

"anything affecting the CIA director is of interest."


5. What role, if any, did Benghazi play?

At another moment, perhaps the CIA director could have admitted having an affair and survived.

But this isn't the best time for an intelligence community scandal. The election is over and Mitt Romney failed to weigh Obama down by claiming intelligence failures in the attack on the consulate in Libya.


But the questions about what happened there remain, and immediately colored Petraeus's departure.

There seems to have been some lag time between when the CIA got information about the attack and when that information was circulated. That appears to have been what U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was drawing from in her statements the weekend after the violence about the investigation still centering on a riot rather than a planned attack.


Between that and other questions about CIA performance before and after the four Americans were killed, there was intense pressure on the agency even before the director's sudden departure.

Some of the questions that will be asked about Petraeus now that the affair is known will be about his conduct during this time.


But some of them will be about whether the public relations aspect of this caused what a number of people in the intelligence-community might see as a disproportionate response in forcing a decorated general and director of the agency out over cheating on his wife.

Obama was told about the situation Thursday but didn't accept the resignation until Friday.


He may ultimately have concluded that dealing with this on top of the Benghazi mess would have been too much.


6. Did Petraeus make the situation worse?

"We all will make mistakes," Broadwell wrote as No. 5 in her list of Petraeus's "Rules for Living" published on The Daily Beast Monday.


"The key is to recognize them and admit them, to learn from them, and to take off the rear-view mirrors - drive on and avoid making them again."

Now the question is whether Petraeus lived by that rule himself.

Bends and breaks of the truth are part of having an affair - to avoid embarrassment, or getting caught.

For intelligence officials, trust is essential, which is why the CIA tends to treat liaisons much more seriously when there's lying involved.

That's even more the case for the person who's in charge at Langley, whose minute-by-minute schedule isn't just of higher concern, but also subject to more scrutiny.


In a moment of heightened attention on what the CIA knew and when they knew it, there's even less room for error.