David Petraeus says he never had a romantic relationship with Jill Kelley, the 37-year-old Tampa socialite at the center of a shocking scandal that precipitated his resignation as CIA director and has also jeopardized the future of his successor in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, according to a former spokesman and family friend.
The retired four-star general also appeared surprised to hear that Allen was being investigated by the FBI for possibly being involved in a compromising relationship with Kelley himself.
The friend, retired Army Col. Steven Boylan, confirmed in an interview with National Journal on Wednesday that Petraeus has decided to testify in a congressional investigation into the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The House Intelligence Committee later announced Petraeus will testify early Friday morning behind closed doors.
“Yesterday he made the decision to testify before Congress on Benghazi,” Boylan said. “He felt it was the right thing to do. He has a great amount of respect for the CIA and their mission. He absolutely loved the job. He didn’t feel he could not testify.” Before his resignation last week, Petraeus had planned to testify on how such a breach of security occurred at a CIA safe house. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, requested that he testify anyway.
Apart from the “few hours” he will spend in testimony, Boylan said, Petraeus is spending all his time attending to his family. “This is the only affair he’s had. He knows what kind of damage he’s done to his family. Right now that’s where his whole focus is, to try to repair that relationship and move on.”
At his first postelection news conference on Wednesday, President Obama praised Petraeus, saying, “We are safer because of the work that David Petraeus has done, and my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”
Obama also said that while he would not comment on the ongoing investigation, he does not believe that Petraeus’s romance with his married biographer, Paula Broadwell, compromised national security. “I have no evidence at this point from what I’ve seen that classified information was disclosed that would have in any way have had an impact on our national security,” the president said.
The affair came to light after Kelley alerted the FBI to allegedly threatening e-mails she had received from Broadwell. Kelley, a physician’s wife and the mother of three, also denies that she had anything other than a friendship with Petraeus. On Tuesday, the Defense Department abruptly announced that the nomination of Allen, the outgoing commander in Afghanistan, to be NATO commander was “on hold” pending an investigation by the FBI and the Pentagon inspector general related to his relationship with Kelley. A senior U.S. Defense official said on Tuesday that the probe involves “potentially inappropriate communications” between Allen and Kelley.
Boylan, who served as Petraeus’s spokesman in Iraq and has remained close to him since, said that the former general was still shocked by the spreading scandal involving Kelley, who was just a friend. “The Kelleys and Petreauses were close personal friends. They met when he became commander of CentCom,” Boylan said. “The Kelleys threw dinner parties for them, introduced them to people, and helped out with various projects and fundraisers that Holly was involved in. They would visit as couples.… There was no romantic relationship between the two of them.”
Of the affair with Broadwell, Boylan confirmed that it began two months after Petraeus took over the CIA in September 2011 and ended “four, four and a half months ago.” He said Petraeus "and Paula had a discussion and agreed this was not right and it needed to stop.” It was also around that time that Petraeus became aware of the somewhat threatening emails that Broadwell was allegedly sending to Kelley.
Boylan says he himself didn’t believe the news at first. “The minute the story broke I e-mailed him…. He e-mailed me back within five minutes or so, saying, yeah, it’s true. He put it in quotes: ‘I screwed up.’ I was a little shocked, in disbelief and denial. Here was somebody I considered to be a mentor,” says Boylan. “What makes it all the more bewildering and disappointing for the public and his friends and supporters is he has been put on extremely high pedestal by the country, and at this point he jumped off that pedestal. Hopefully, to use a military metaphor, he’ll execute a good parachute landing fall and survive. I believe the family will survive. It’s just going to take a lot of hard work.”