US & Canada

David Petraeus: Broadwell affair was 'colossal mistake'

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Media captionSteve Boylan said the former spymaster knows he has made a "colossal mistake"

Former CIA director David Petraeus has acknowledged his extramarital affair was a "colossal mistake", his former spokesman has told ABC News.

Retired Army Col Steve Boylan said Gen Petraeus' wife Holly was "not exactly pleased" by the revelation, adding that "furious would be an understatement".

The former general resigned over a relationship with Paula Broadwell, his biographer and a former army officer.

It was discovered after a second woman, Jill Kelley, reported harassing emails.

Mrs Kelley, 37, told the FBI that she had received anonymous emails, prompting an investigation into Mrs Broadwell, a married mother of two.

In his interview with ABC News, Col Boylan said Gen Petraeus' affair with Mrs Broadwell, 40, began after the four-star general retired from the army.

"This was poor judgement on his part," Col Boylan said. "It was a colossal mistake, he knows that, he's acknowledged that."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Jill Kelley (l) and Holly Petraeus were friends for years

He added: "They're a strong family. They'll get through this."

The relationship began about two months after Gen Petraeus, 60, took up his post as director of the CIA in September 2011, Col Boylan said. He also said it ended about four months ago.

Adultery is illegal under military law, and correspondents say Gen Petraeus could face military prosecution if evidence is found to challenge his claims that the affair began after he left the army.

The former general joined the CIA in 2011 after heading international forces in Iraq and later in Afghanistan.

He was the highest-profile military officer of the post-9/11 years, and was widely credited for his role in running the "surge" in Iraq and implementing a counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan.

'Lightning bolt'

Mrs Broadwell, a West Point graduate, co-authored a biography titled All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, which was published in January.

In the preface, she said she met Mr Petraeus in 2006 while she was a Harvard post-graduate student and that she researched the book while following him on trips to Afghanistan.

Gen Petraeus' resignation on Friday sent shockwaves through Washington, coming just days after President Barack Obama won a second term in office and pre-empting any reshuffle of his national security team.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the Senate intelligence committee, said the news came as a "lightning bolt", in an appearance on Fox News on Sunday.

US lawmakers have begun asking whether national security may have been compromised by the affair, and why they were not told sooner.

On 26 October Mrs Broadwell publicly discussed otherwise unreported information about an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which saw four Americans killed on 11 September, including Ambassador Chris Stephens.

In a speech at the University of Denver, Mrs Broadwell suggested the attack might actually have been an attempt to recover "Libyan militia members" who were being held by the CIA.

Her comments have stoked speculation as to whether there could be more to uncover about Gen Petraeus and any role he had in the Benghazi aftermath.

The intelligence agency denied the allegations, saying: "Any suggestion that the agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless."

Classified debate

Gen Petraeus stepped down on Friday, acknowledging in his resignation letter that he had shown "extremely poor judgment".

He was due to testify about the Benghazi attack on Thursday before a closed-door congressional committee meeting, but acting Director Michael Morrell will now take his place. Gen Petraeus could be called to give evidence at a later date.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Paula Broadwell graduated from the same West Point academy as Gen Petraeus

The FBI probe sparked by Mrs Kelley showed the harassing emails had come from Mrs Broadwell, and further inquiry revealed evidence of her affair with Gen Petraeus.

It is thought that Mr Petraeus and Mrs Broadwell were careful to avoid leaving an email-traffic trail, law enforcement officials told AP news agency.

They said the pair would leave emails in a draft folder, instead of sending them, on a personal account that both of them were able to access in order to read the messages.

In a statement, Mrs Kelley and her husband acknowledged their friendship with Gen Petraeus and asked for privacy.

"We and our family have been friends with Gen Petraeus and his family for over five years," she said.

"We respect his and his family's privacy and want the same for us and our three children."

Reports suggest that senior FBI and justice department officials learned about the affair over the summer, but it is not clear whether FBI Director Robert Mueller or Attorney General Eric Holder were informed.

In the autumn, classified documents were found on Mrs Broadwell's computer after she admitted the affair and allowed it to be searched.

Later, Gen Petraeus acknowledged he had been having an affair but told investigators he had not given Mrs Broadwell the classified information, reports say.

He told associates that they were probably given to her on her reporting trips to Afghanistan by commanders she visited there, reports AP.

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