The circle of congressional leaders who knew early on of a possible extramarital affair surrounding CIA Director David H. Petraeus appears to have been very small, with John A. Boehner’s office confirming that the speaker was told of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s knowledge of the situation after the news of Petraeus’ resignation broke.
The scandal that felled Petraeus’ storied military and intelligence career first came to light on Capitol Hill when an informant tipped a rank-and-file congressman off to the fact that Petraeus was having an affair.
According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., was told in October by a friend that a whistle-blower had information that implicated Petraeus, the retired four-star general and top CIA official, in an extramarital affair that may also have involved a national security breach.
As first reported by the New York Times and confirmed by the source, Reichert directed the whistle-blower to Cantor. Cantor’s staff, and then the Virginia Republican himself, spoke with the informant. The source was then passed on to FBI Director Robert Mueller.
“I was contacted by an FBI employee concerned that sensitive, classified information may have been compromised and made certain Director Mueller was aware of these serious allegations and the potential risk to our national security,” Cantor said, in a statement provided to the Times.
According to the Times, Cantor’s chief of staff, Steve Stombres, called the FBI on Oct. 31 to tell them about the contact.
“Our office stands by the accuracy of the New York Times article as it pertains to Rep. Reichert. We have no further comment about our involvement,” said Reichert’s spokeswoman, Natasha Mayer.
Cantor’s office did not return multiple requests by Roll Call for comment.
Boehner’s office said the speaker believes Cantor acted appropriately with the information.
Reichert, a member of the Ways and Means Committee, does not currently sit on any intelligence-related panels, but in the 110th Congress, he was ranking Republican on the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment and also sat on a subcommittee dealing with global counter-terrorism.
Petraeus was having an affair with his biographer, journalist Paula Broadwell. The information about the affair apparently came to light when the FBI investigated harassing emails Broadwell sent to another woman who knew both Broadwell and Petraeus. The FBI’s investigation into Broadwell’s email account eventually led them to Petraeus’ personal email account.
The other woman was identified as an unpaid social planner at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., where Central Command and Special Operations Command are located, according to the Associated Press.
Information from congressional leaders has been scant, trickling in as the political talk shows ended and the afternoon progressed.
According to a senior House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staffer, Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., has been briefed and has serious concerns he feels need to be answered about how the FBI handled the information. FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce will come brief Rogers and Intelligence ranking Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland on Wednesday morning. The two members will then be briefed by acting CIA Director Mike Morrell that afternoon.
Although the FBI is required to inform members of the Intelligence Committees about developments in the intelligence world, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said Sunday she did not find out about the news until Friday, the day President Obama accepted Petraeus’ resignation.
Feinstein said that she will investigate how the FBI handled the information.
“We received no advance notice. It was like a lightning bolt,” the California Democrat said in an appearance on Fox News Sunday.
She added that she may have Petraeus himself come testify at a later date when her panel holds a hearing about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya that claimed the lives of an American diplomat and other U.S. workers.
The panel’s top Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, also did not rule out the possibility of Petraeus testifying. He said he too did not receive word of the investigation until Friday. But he said that the information went through the “appropriate channels” before coming to Congress.
“I was not told about it until Friday. You know, the intelligence community became aware of it on Tuesday. Actually, late afternoon on Tuesday. And then, by the time it sifted through the appropriate channels, through the White House, we were told on Friday,” he said.
Furthermore, he said he is confident that Petraeus was truthful in his confirmation hearings when he was appointed to head the CIA.
“I don’t know [the] exact date of when all of this process began and what took place there, but we’re — we’re confident that David Petraeus was very straight up with us during the confirmation hearings,” said Chambliss.
House Homeland Security Chairman Peter T. King, R-N.Y., said on CNN’s State of the Union that he also questions the way the FBI handled the information. He alluded to the timing of the revelation having to do with the presidential election.
“It seems to me it’s been going on for several months, and now it appears that the FBI didn’t realize until Election Day that General Petraeus was involved,” he said. “It just doesn’t add up that you have this type of investigation, the FBI investigating emails, the emails leading to the CIA director, and taking four months to find out that the CIA director was involved.”
Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, ranking Democrat of the Homeland Security Subcommittee that oversees the intelligence community, was also not aware of the affair before Friday.
Terri Henderson, 6, center, whose mother is El Salvador, attends a rally with members of Congress at Union Station's Columbus Circle to announce the Restore Opportunity, Strengthen, and Improve the Economy (ROSIE) Act on July 29, 2014. The legislation provides incentives for government contractors to pay a living wage and other benefits that would help low-income workers.