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Marine Gen. John Allen

Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press

David Petraeus

Cliff Owen, Associated Press

Holder: FBI acted correctly in keeping lid on Petraeus probe

  • Article by: CAROL D. LEONNIG
  • Washington Post
  • November 15, 2012 - 8:43 PM

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday defended the Justice Department's handling of the investigation that forced David Petraeus to resign as CIA director, saying that the department was right to keep the inquiry secret from the White House until after last week's presidential election.

Holder's first public comments on the controversy came as the CIA opened an internal inquiry of Petraeus' conduct during his 14-month tenure as director. The move means that there are three active investigations related to a scandal that has scrambled President Obama's national security team.

"What we did was conduct the investigation in the way we normally conduct a criminal investigation," Holder said at a news conference in New Orleans.

He said the inquiry was handled "in an impartial way. We follow the facts. We do not share outside the Justice Department, outside the FBI, the facts of ongoing investigations."

Questions about decisions

Holder's remarks were aimed at quieting criticism that has grown sharper in recent days as the initial shock waves from Petraeus' resignation have given way to questions about Justice Department decisions during its probe.

Some of those questions have focused on Fred Humphries, an FBI agent in Tampa, Fla., whose concerns that the investigation had uncovered possible national security risks led to a chain of events that resulted in a House Republican leader raising the issue with the office of FBI Director Robert Mueller. A person close to Humphries said he had no intention of being a whistleblower, but the agent's informal comments may have triggered the disclosure of Petraeus' affair.

Republicans have accused Holder of withholding the results of the investigation until after the election for political motives. At the same time, some Democrats have begun to draw comparisons between the exposure of an adulterous affair by Petraeus and the bureau's history of digging up dirt on Washington officials during the tenure of founding FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

"We don't want to return to those days," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the House intelligence committee and a former federal prosecutor. "The FBI was trying to find the right line here," he said, even as it unearthed "what may have been an affair that had nothing to do with national security."

Holder fires back

Lawmakers from both parties have faulted the FBI for not notifying Congress that a criminal probe had turned up compromising material on the CIA director as well as potentially inappropriate communications between a Tampa socialite at the center of the case and Gen. John Allen, the U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.

Holder fired back on Thursday, saying that the Justice Department "made the determination as we were going through that there was not a threat to national security." Because of that conclusion, he said, there was no reason to advise officials outside the department before the investigation was complete.

The FBI notified the executive branch with a call to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on the evening of Election Day, Nov. 6. Holder said the call was made then because the bureau had "conducted a critical interview the Friday before. When we got to that point, we thought it appropriate to notify the president."

Law enforcement officials said the "critical interview" was a Nov. 2 meeting with Paula Broadwell, the Petraeus biographer whose affair with the CIA director was exposed by the FBI investigation.

Broadwell and Petraeus are both married. The case was triggered by harassing e-mails Broadwell sent to the Tampa woman, Jill Kelley, who was close to Petraeus and Allen.

It is unclear what FBI agents covered in that final interview with Broadwell, but the investigation has focused on her possession of classified material. She and Petraeus have denied that he was the source of any classified files.

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