Why the FBI Won’t Close the Books on the Petraeus Sex Scandal

Why the FBI Won’t Close the Books on the Petraeus Sex Scandal

Two years ago, CIA Director David Petraeus resigned under a cloud of scandal after his sexual affair with would-be biographer Paula Broadwell was exposed. The triumphant author of George Bush’s “surge strategy” in Iraq and his mistress had been under FBI investigation starting in the summer of 2012 for allegedly giving Broadwell access to classified documents for her book on Petraeus. 

The investigation only came to light after a battle erupted between the CIA and the State Department over the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the death of four Americans, including the first U.S. ambassador murdered in the line of duty in 33 years. In September 2012, Broadwell admitted to the affair in an FBI interrogation and provided her computer for a search, which turned up the classified documents and ensnared Petraeus in the probe. 

Related: FBI Accused of Working on Movie Plots, Not Terror Plots 

Petraeus resigned as CIA Director on November 9, 2012. Charges have never been brought against either Petraeus or Broadwell for the leak of classified material. Both Petraeus and Broadwell told the FBI at the time that Petraeus hadn’t been the source of the documents found in Broadwell’s possession anyway. 

However, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake and Josh Rogin made a curious discovery more than two years later: the FBI has never closed its investigation despite the apparent cooperation of the only two targets in it. And now people are beginning to ask why. 

“According to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who have spoken to us,” Lake and Rogin report, “the FBI still has an open investigation into whether Petraeus improperly provided highly classified documents to Paula Broadwell.” 

The two note that Petraeus isn’t the first CIA Director to face an investigation over misuse of classified documents; John Deutsch pled guilty to a misdemeanor in 1996 and was later pardoned by Bill Clinton. Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger infamously stole documents relating to Clinton’s presidency from the National Archive by hiding them in his socks, which cost Berger his security clearance and $10,000. 

The Petraeus/Broadwell case has significant differences. Unlike the Deutsch and Berger probes, the FBI hasn’t closed their work in a timely manner to allow the case to proceed to any adjudication at all. That keeps Petraeus from working in the national security field, where his unquestioned expertise might be particularly useful in the fight against ISIS, as he is unable to reapply for his security clearances while the probe is ongoing. At the same time, though, Lake and Rogin report that Petraeus has been informally advising the White House on Iraq, which has to involve discussion of at least some sensitive information. 

Related: Typos Send FBI Agents After the Wrong Bad Guys 

Congress has asked about the status of the Petraeus investigation before, even though it didn’t attract much attention until now. Last April, Rep. Jason Chaffetz pressed Attorney General Eric Holder during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, but all Holder would do was confirm that the probe was ongoing. That remains the last public update on the Petraeus probe from the Department of Justice. 

Now, though, Petraeus’ defenders seem resolved to pressure Holder and the FBI to either file charges or close the case. Senator John McCain implied that the Obama administration had strung out the probe to keep Petraeus from publicly criticizing Barack Obama’s national-security policies.  McCain, who will chair the Senate Armed Services Committee in January, wrote a letter to Holder rebuking the DoJ for its sloth. 

“This a circumstance in which the principle ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is certainly in play,” McCain scolded Holder. “The fact that you and others within your department have weighed in publicly on the case raises questions about whether this investigation is being handled in a fundamentally fair and appropriate manner.” 

Considering the threats emerging in a region where Petraeus’ expertise could help inform better policy responses, McCain adds, “Congress and the American people cannot afford to have this voice silenced or curtailed by the shadow of a long-running, unresolved investigation marked by leaks from anonymous sources.” 

McCain isn’t alone. I spoke with former House Intelligence chair Pete Hoekstra , now at the Investigative Project on Terrorism, about the delay. 

Related: Senator Delivers Blunt Message on FBI Pot Joke 

“It’s not a complicated case,” Hoekstra said, noting that it had no connection to espionage or other malicious intent. “Why would they be keeping it open? And the speculation swirls around [that] the best way to keep David Petraeus quiet, if he has any criticism of the Obama administration, is to have this hanging out over David’s head, knowing that at any given time, anything he says can and will be held against him.” It looks like the case is being held open “for political reasons,” Hoekstra said, “and not legal reasons.” 

Chaffetz said much the same to Lake and Rogin. After noting that Petraeus has had little to offer in public comments except for a handful of supporting remarks for Obama’s policies, Chaffetz responded, “When the president has the ability to charge him with crimes, maybe it affects your perspective.” 

This administration has already had its feckless security policies pilloried by other former members of Obama’s team. Defense Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta – Petraeus’ predecessor at CIA – published highly critical memoirs of their time on President Obama’s national security team. 

Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel might be next, especially after becoming the target of anonymously sourced attacks from the White House on his competence. The White House probably would prefer to have Petraeus keep his thoughts to himself until 2017 at the earliest, especially given his credibility on military and intelligence affairs. 

That, however, is the problem -- whether the delay in concluding the investigation is deliberate or just another example of incompetence in this administration. The collapse of the national security and foreign policy strategies of this administration makes Petraeus’ experience more valuable than ever. If Petraeus broke the law, the Department of Justice has had plenty of time to make that case, and so far hasn’t even bothered to try. 

If he’s not guilty of a crime in relation to the documents found in Broadwell’s possession, then the FBI needs to close its probe and allow Congress and the President to benefit from Petraeus’ analysis, and allow Petraeus to have access to the information he needs to provide that service to his country. 

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times: