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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014
Editorials

The Petraeus tragedy

Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 12:56 AM

Politicians and commentators have been quick to see a conspiracy in the departure of CIA director Gen. David Petraeus, who abruptly resigned Friday after admitting an affair with his biographer.

Rep. Peter King, the New York Republican who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, on Sunday suspected there was a White House cover-up and later attacked the FBI, saying it was "derelict in its duty" when it failed to contact the president immediately when it learned of the affair.

Others are tying the Petraeus scandal to the attack on Benghazi. Petraeus was scheduled to testify before Congress this week on the attack on the U.S. consulate that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.

The resignation requires rigorous review, and if anybody was playing politics, heads should roll. Petraeus still should testify on Libya.

Yet we suspect this sad turn of events has more to do with human failings than political machinations.

We have the highest regard for the local FBI office, which first handled the complaint that led to the unraveling of the affair.

Consider the outrage that rightfully would have occurred had the FBI rushed to judgment.

A Tampa woman several months ago alerted a local FBI agent and acquaintance that she was receiving harassing emails.

The FBI investigated and eventually traced the emails to Paula Broadwell, who had written a biography of Petraeus. Agents later discovered explicit emails that were eventually linked to Petraeus, though it was unclear at the time if he was connected to the harassing emails (he was not).

According to news reports, it was not until late summer that the FBI knew the delicacy of the matter. It proceeded cautiously.

Broadwell was not interviewed until the week of Oct. 21, when she acknowledged the affair and turned over a personal computer that contained several classified documents. The next week, according to The New York Times, agents interviewed Petraeus, who admitted the affair but said he had not turned over any classified documents to her, which she confirmed. She was interviewed again Nov. 2.

The agents cleared Petraeus of any wrongdoing and notified James Clapper, director of national intelligence, around 5 p.m. on Election Day about the investigation.

It should not surprise anyone that Petraeus would resign. Affairs are hardly unusual in Washington, but as the head of the nation's intelligence agency, the lapse had the potential for compromising national security.

Petraeus held himself accountable, a refreshing contrast to the usual denials and excuse-making that accompanies high-profile indiscretions.

This failure does not change the fact that Petraeus is a genuine American hero who led our troops bravely and brilliantly in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also headed U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa with distinction.

We hope he and his family deal successfully with this trauma and he is given another opportunity to serve.

There are plenty of unanswered questions, including how Broadwell obtained the classified documents. Congress should scrutinize how all this evolved — just as it should aggressively try to get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi.

Perhaps evidence of a conspiracy or cover-up will emerge.

But sometimes things are what they seem — a very good man made a very bad mistake.

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