WASHINGTON -- The scandal that felled CIA Director David Petraeus widened Tuesday to ensnare the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, in a public drama involving a Tampa socialite, a jealous mistress, a twin sister in a messy custody dispute and flirty emails.
The improbable story -- by turns tragic and silly -- could have major consequences, unfolding at a critical time in the Afghan war effort and just as President Barack Obama was hoping for a smooth transition in his national security team.
Obama put a hold on the nomination of Afghan war chief Allen to become the next commander of U.S. European Command as well as the NATO supreme allied commander in Europe after investigators uncovered 20,000-plus pages of documents and emails that involved Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley. Some of the material was characterized as "flirtatious." Allen, 58, insisted he'd done nothing wrong and worked to save his imperiled career.
Kelley, 37, who had worked herself into the center of the military social scene in Florida without having any official role, emerged as a central figure in the still-unfolding story that has embroiled two of the nation's most influential and respected military leaders.
Known as a close friend of retired Gen. Petraeus, Kelley triggered the FBI investigation that led to his downfall as CIA director when she complained about getting anonymous, harassing emails. They turned out to have been written by Petraeus' mistress, Paula Broadwell, who apparently was jealous of the attention the general paid to Kelley. Petraeus acknowledged the affair and resigned Friday.
In the course of looking into that situation, federal investigators came across what a Pentagon official called "inappropriate communications" between Allen and Kelley, both of them married.
According to one senior U.S. official, the emails between Allen and Kelley were not sexually explicit or seductive but included pet names such as "sweetheart" or "dear." The official said that while much of the communication -- including some from Allen to Kelley -- is relatively innocuous, some could be construed as unprofessional and would cause a reasonable person to take notice.
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.Allen was not suspended from his military position, even though his nomination for promotion is on hold. The White House will soon be deciding how many troops will remain in Afghanistan -- and for what purposes -- after the U.S.-led combat operation ends in 2014. Allen has provided his recommendations to the White House and is key to those discussions.
Still more subplots in the story emerged yesterday with news that both Allen and Petraeus wrote letters last September on behalf of Jill Kelley's twin sister, Natalie Khawam, in a messy custody dispute.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, employing understatement, was asked about the revelations involving Allen and said Obama "wouldn't call it welcome" news. Carney described Obama as "surprised" by the earlier news about Petraeus.