WASHINGTON — Ex-CIA Director David Petraeus, who was whisked clandestinely into private meetings with Congress today to avoid reporters, expressed regret anew in an appearance that marked his first official business since he resigned in disgrace over an extramarital affair.
In ways befitting a spy, the former four-star general was sneaked into a secure room beneath the Capitol to escape a clamorous crowd of photographers and television cameras. After more than four hours, Petraeus left much the way he came and was seen departing in a two-vehicle motorcade. About 20 minutes later, The Associated Press photographed Petreaus entering his home — one of the only public images of him since he resigned.
The scandal over Petraeus' affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has preoccupied Washington, even as the possibility of war loomed in Israel and the U.S. government faced a market-rattling "fiscal cliff" that could imperil the economy. So far, the scandal has ensnared Petraeus; the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen; two Florida socialites; and a decorated FBI counterterrorism agent.
In his Capitol Hill appearances, Petraeus, who until last week was among America's most respected military leaders, discussed with the House and Senate intelligence committees the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead. He did not discuss his adultery with Broadwell, except to say that he regretted his behavior and that his departure was unrelated to the deadly violence in Libya. The scandal has led to a new CIA internal investigation.
"He was very clear his resignation was tied solely to his personal behavior," said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., a member of the Intelligence Committee. "He was apologetic and regretful but still Gen. Petraeus."
Unlike previous appearances at the Capitol, when Petraeus walked through the front door and greeted reporters, he was smuggled inside through a network of underground hallways. Police closed down entire corridors in the Capitol. Members of Congress said they made arrangements to spare Petraeus embarrassment and humiliation. Before the scandal, he famously cultivated personal relationships with journalists and served as the U.S. war commander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, apologized to reporters and photographers for the stringent security.
"I know that's wrankling you," Feinstein said. "We didn't want to make it any more difficult for him. And you know, you people aren't always the easiest. So the blame is on us. Any waiting that you did, I apologize, but, you know, there's a lot of suffering going on."
Feinstein said no senators asked Petraeus about the affair. A congressional staffer who attended one of the closed briefings said talk about the sex scandal was off the table.
Petraeus, 60, publicly acknowledged last week that he had cheated on his wife of 38 years with Broadwell, 40.
It wasn't until Oct. 26 that Petraeus acknowledged the affair to FBI agents, a federal law enforcement official disclosed Friday. The official was not authorized to speak on the record about the ongoing case and requested anonymity for that reason.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are expected to meet next week to discuss the recent stumbles of two of the military's top generals, said Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of U.S. Naval Operations. The joint chiefs want to review ethics, accountability and behavioral issues and determine whether senior officials are living up to the military's standards, Greenert said Friday at the National Press Club.
The FBI began investigating the case against Broadwell last summer but didn't notify the White House or Congress until after the election.
In the investigation, the FBI uncovered flirtatious emails between Allen and Kelley, both of them married.
President Barack Obama has put a promotion nomination for Allen on hold.
Petraeus, in his first media interview since he resigned, told CNN this week that he had never given classified information to Broadwell. She has said she didn't receive such material from Petraeus.
But the FBI found a substantial number of classified documents on Broadwell's computer and in her home, according to the law enforcement official, and is investigating how she got them. The Army has now suspended her security clearance.
The official outlined new details today of the timing of the FBI investigation that showed that agents spent the summer making certain that no one had hacked into Petraeus' computers to track his movements — a potential national security vulnerability raised by some of the first emails they saw in the case. They also used the summer to rule out any possibility he somehow participated in harassing Kelley by email.
After that, in early fall, Broadwell was interviewed by the FBI and agents searched her computers and found substantial amounts of classified documents, the law enforcement official said. The focus of the investigation shifted and agents spent most of October working with the Pentagon to determine where she got the documents, their significance and her right to have them.
The CIA on Thursday opened an exploratory investigation into Petraeus' conduct. The inquiry "doesn't presuppose any particular outcome," said CIA spokesman Preston Golson. At the same time, Army officials say that, at this point, there is no appetite for recalling Petraeus to active duty to pursue any adultery charges against him.