CIA Director David H. Petraeus has resigned due to having had an extramarital affair, ending the government career of one of the nation’s highest-profile leaders in the decade-long war on terror and adding a question mark to the list of vacancies in President Obama’s post-election Cabinet reshuffle.
Gen. Petraeus on Thursday privately submitted his resignation in a letter to Mr. Obama. In an email Friday afternoon to CIA employees, Gen. Petraeus said he quit for “personal reasons,” but his departure came amid a swirl of speculation about its circumstances.
Some observers linked it to the growing pressure the agency and the Obama White House have faced over their handling of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed.
NBC News reported the resignation was linked to an FBI investigation into the retired Army general’s biographer, Paula Broadwell, “for improperly trying to access his email.” It cited an unnamed law enforcement official as the source.
The FBI had no comment, and Gen. Petraeus‘ email message dealt solely with the affair itself, without identifying the other party.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Gen. Petraeus said. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”
Less than 30 minutes after the news became public Friday, Mr. Obama issued a statement calling Gen. Petraeus “one of the outstanding general officers of his generation.”
The president said he is “completely confident” in the CIA’s ability to carry out its mission, adding that Gen. Petraeus‘ deputy, Michael Morrell, a career analyst and manager at the agency, would be acting director for now.
“I have the utmost confidence in Acting Director Morrell and the men and women of the CIA who work every day to keep our nation safe,” Mr. Obama said.
Speculation and change
Observers and former officials said Mr. Morrell might be in the post for some time, as the White House aims to fill national security openings prompted by the reported desire of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and, according to some, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to leave the administration.
“I expect the White House will be comfortable with having Michael Morrell as acting director for the time being, and that this will be one more job to factor in to other shuffling of high-level positions, with the expected departures of Secretaries Clinton and Panetta,” said former senior U.S. intelligence official Paul R. Pillar, now a professor at Georgetown.
Others cautioned that questions about who gets which job are rarely straightforward in Washington.
“I don’t think the Obama administration is in any rush to replace Secretaries Clinton and Panetta,” said Andrew Schwartz, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They have both distinguished themselves and are incredibly hard acts to follow.”
Mr. Schwartz said that the administration is looking to bring in senior statesmen and promote insiders. “Watch for names like [Democratic Sen.] Jack Reed, [former GOP Sen.] Chuck Hagel and [outgoing independent Sen.] Joe Lieberman at DoD and [National Security Adviser] Tom Donilon at the State Department.”
The conventional wisdom that Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, is heir apparent as secretary of state is wrong, Mr. Schwartz said.
“With the strong possibility that [recently defeated GOP Sen.] Scott Brown could win [Mr. Kerry’s] Senate seat in a special election, I don’t believe the administration will risk that. Jack Reed’s [Rhode Island] seat should he be named secretary of defense is a much safer bet to stay in the ‘D’ column,” he said.
A brief farewell
In his statement, Mr. Obama also praised the military career of the 60-year-old Gen. Petraeus, who is “known for his iron discipline and can run two miles in less than 10 minutes.”
He said the the general had helped “our military adapt to new challenges,” led “our men and women in uniform through a remarkable period of service in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and “helped our nation put those wars on a path to a responsible end.”
“As director of the Central Intelligence Agency, he has continued to serve with characteristic intellectual rigor, dedication, and patriotism,” Mr. Obama said. “By any measure, through his lifetime of service David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger.”
The White House at first stonewalled media inquiries about the CIA director’s future. White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at about 2:30 p.m. Friday that he had no information on Gen. Petraeus and that Mr. Obama believed he was doing an excellent job.
Mr. Obama delivered a short speech on the economy at 1 p.m. at the White House and, had news of Gen. Petraeus‘ resignation leaked out before the president’s address, it could have overshadowed Mr. Obama’s remarks.
Gen. Petraeus wrote to CIA employees: “I want you to know that it has been the greatest of privileges to have served with you, the officers of our nation’s Silent Service, a workforce that is truly exceptional in every regard.”
The CIA head, who, as a general, won wide praise for his leadership of the military surge that helped turn around the U.S. mission in Iraq, added: “I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.”
He closed the letter “With admiration and appreciation, David H. Petraeus.”
Military affairs analyst Thomas Ricks reported on his blog that the “surprise to me is that Obama let him go.”
Mr. Obama said: “Going forward, my thoughts and prayers are with Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work. I wish them the very best at this difficult time.”
The general’s wife, Holly Petraeus holds a post in the administration as associate director of service member affairs at the newly established Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The appointment, confirmed by the Senate in September 2011, was widely viewed as a savvy way of sidelining a man who might otherwise have been a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in the recently completed election.
Before heading the agency, Gen. Petraeus served as commander of the war in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. Before that, he served as commander of the U.S. Central Command and commanded U.S. forces in Iraq.