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CURL: Petraeus schools the White House
Question of the Day
That didn't take long.
Ever since CIA Director David H. Petraeus resigned, one question has risen above all others: Why? Yes, he had an affair with a woman 20 years his junior (quite the mentor), but hey, there was once a top federal official who had sex with an intern his daughter's age right in the White House Oval Office, and he didn't step down. So, why the retired general?
There's an easy answer: Mr. Petraeus is a man of honor, even with his rather sizable transgression, and he felt he could no longer lead a team of men who put their lives on the line for America every day. Even though the West Point graduate had devoted his entire life to serving the U.S. — from an infantry officer to commander of the 101st Airborne Division to a four-star general in charge of Central Command and the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan — he could see no way forward with his integrity compromised.
But that simply doesn't add up. It's the 21st century and Americans are a forgiving people, even for such a personal lapse. In the case of President Bill Clinton, Americans were angry — more, disgusted — but they looked past the man's misdeed, labeled it a personal matter between him and his wife, and moved on. Most likely, they would have done the same with Mr. Petraeus, after a period of public shaming.
No, there's something more at play. Reports unraveling the affair the general had with his biographer show the FBI began investigating months ago, back in the summer. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. was told of the investigation in late summer, but according to the White House, he never told President Obama — who reportedly only heard about the probe the day after the presidential election.
But wait: This wasn't about the Secretary of Transportation, it was the director of the CIA — shouldn't the president be told? Please. You know Mr. Holder told the president, right away.
Still, the White House insists the FBI was investigating what they thought was possible criminal wrongdoing. When it turned out to be just a sexual dalliance, the bureau dismissed the matter and didn't tell the White House, or so the story goes. Mr. Holder said there was no threat to national security, so he informed no one.
Mr. Petraeus knew for weeks and weeks that the FBI was on to him — they even interviewed him about the affair, along with his mistress, Paula Broadwell. But even then, he thought he would stay on as CIA director, that the matter would remain private, that the White House would repay his loyalty to the nation with a little discretion.
Not so. In a flash, the story got out, and the Mr. Petraeus was gone. Yet the question still remains: Why? To answer that, one must merely look back at what happened after the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that left the ambassador and three others dead. When the CIA director briefed the House committee on Sept. 14, he toed the Obama administration's line and said what administration officials had been saying from the outset — that the attack was a spontaneous protest that spun out of control.
But he knew something, and on Friday, he told a completely different story. What changed? Gen. Petraeus was now Mr. Petraeus. Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, the civilian told lawmakers that in his initial report, he declared there was "al Qaeda involvement." But that reference was stripped from his agency's original talking points; no one knows who changed the memo, according to a top lawmaker.
Two days after the attack, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice went on five Sunday shows, repeatedly claiming the attack was spontaneous and connected to an anti-Islam video posted on YouTube in July. No al Qaeda, no terrorism. The White House claims she was just repeating the best intelligence available at the time.
This is where it gets interesting. Me, I think Mr. Obama and his minions put the screws to Mr. Petraeus: You go to the House, they said, and tell them the things we tell you to tell them, and you skate. He said no. Some top Obama aide said, "You'll lose everything, just do it." Mr. Petraeus said "nuh uh. I may have had an affair, and I'll have to suffer the slings and arrows for that, but I will not take the fall for Benghazi."
In fact, I think months ago, someone very high up in the administration, likely with top approval, ordered the FBI to investigate the CIA director — the two agencies have quietly been at war for decades. And Mr. Obama didn't really trust Mr. Petraeus, a holdover appointee from the Bush administration. Get a little dirt on the director, just in case he ever appears ready to leave the reservation.
But Friday's testimony changed everything. Out there now is that the director of the CIA told whoever would listen that there was "al Qaeda involvement" in that Sept. 11 attack. Who knows what Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will tell the House next month, now that she's done with her wine-tastings in Australia.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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