President Barack Obama assured Americans on Wednesday that the sex scandal that brought down CIA chief David Petraeus and ensnared another top general has not compromised national security.
Petraeus, the most celebrated US general of his generation, credited with turning around the war in Iraq, resigned last week to pre-empt revelations of an affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, a married army reservist.
A lawyer acting for the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen who is also under investigation over mails he sent a Florida socialite, said his client would fully cooperate with the Pentagon probe.
Petraeus and Allen were exposed after Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old Tampa hostess who organised parties for military officers, complained to an FBI agent friend of threatening emails, which turned out to be from Broadwell.
The scandal has rocked the Washington security establishment but, beyond any personal failings it may have revealed, Obama said he had seen no evidence it had harmed the security of the nation or its troops.
“I have no evidence at this point from what I have seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have a negative impact on our national security,” he said at his first news conference after his re-election.
“General Petraeus had an extraordinary career,” he said. “But by his own assessment, he did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary as the director of the CIA with respect to this personal matter.”
Petraeus is due to testify in Congress on Friday about the September 11 assault in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens and two former Navy SEALs working for the CIA.
He took command of the CIA 14 months ago, retiring from the military after a storied career in which he commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The FBI launched the investigation after Kelley alerted them to the threatening emails, which indicated the sender had detailed knowledge of the travel schedules of both Petraeus and Allen, the Washington Post reported.
In probing Petraeus and Broadwell, the FBI happened upon a vast trove of messages Allen had sent Kelley, a married “social liaison” for US Central Command in Florida who hosted military officers at her Tampa mansion.
The Post cited defence officials as saying that authorities at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa had revoked Kelley's entry badge, which granted her the same access as relatives of military personnel and retirees.
The White House has expressed confidence in Allen, after the married four-star general was placed under investigation by FBI agents.
Allen denies any sexual liaison with Kelley, but the volume of correspondence, some of it reported to be “flirtatious” in nature, could amount to a breach of military rules.
“To the extent there are questions about certain communications by General Allen, he shares in the desire to resolve those questions as completely and quickly as possible,” the commander's lawyer said in a statement.
Allen had been due to be confirmed by a Senate committee this week as NATO's new supreme commander in Europe, but Obama put the process on hold until the Pentagon completes its investigation.
Meanwhile, the New York Times identified the FBI agent who had taken Kelley's initial complaint and thus triggered the inquiry as 47-year-old veteran Frederick Humphries, a friend of the hostess's family.
Lawrence Berger, the general counsel for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, told The New York Times that a previously reported shirtless photo sent by Humphries to Kelley was harmless, and had been sent years earlier in the context of ordinary relations between their families.
Berger did not directly address reports that it was his client who triggered Petraeus's resignation by telling Republican lawmakers in Washington of the inquiry, saying only that Humphries “had followed FBI protocols.”
Senior Republican lawmaker Eric Cantor, whose intervention into the scandal may have spurred Petraeus to resign, spoke out for the first time on Wednesday about his involvement.
Cantor received information from Humphries on October 27 and passed on his concerns about the protracted investigation to FBI chief Robert Mueller on October 31, eight days before Petraeus tendered his resignation.
“The information that was sent to me sounded as if there was a potential for a national security vulnerability,” Cantor said.
“I had no way of corroborating the story that I was told, and felt that the best thing to do at the time was not to politicise it, but to put national security first.”
Petraeus resigned last week when it became clear his affair with Broadwell, who travelled to Afghanistan to write a fawning biography of him, would soon become public.
Broadwell has hired Washington power attorney Robert Muse to represent her. No criminal charges have been filed, but FBI agents searched her North Carolina home earlier this week and seized several boxes and pictures.
US media reports Wednesday suggested some classified material had been found, but there was no suggestion from officials that she could be charged.
The emails Broadwell sent to Kelley suggest the biographer was jealous of the socialite's rapport with generals, including Allen and Petraeus.
US media reported that Broadwell had criticised Kelley to senior generals under the online pseudonym KelleyPatrol, including one mail to Allen in which she called Kelley a “seductress.”
Broadwell was photographed on Wednesday in Washington, staying at her brother's house, but has not addressed the media scrum camped outside.