The Petraeus Affair: Why Was Obama Kept in the Dark?

A 2007 memo by former attorney general Michael Mukasey suggests the Justice Department may have been remiss in shielding the spy chief's extramarital affair from the President.

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Brendan Smialowski / Getty Images

President Barack Obama listens while then-nominee for CIA Director, Gen. David Petraeus, speaks in the East Room of the White House in Washington, April 28, 2011.

Forget the salacious details of David Petraeus‘s affair with Paula Broadwell for a moment. Focus on the key national security facts: the head of the CIA was having an extramarital affair, and was communicating with his mistress over an unsecure Gmail account for up to eight months. In the world of espionage, those are potentially important—even vital—secrets, and certainly ones that the Commander in Chief should know. The affair could expose the CIA chief or the mistress to blackmail. The use of an unclassified e-mail account to communicate potentially damaging details of his private life could speak to the judgment of the nation’s top spy.

For these reasons, an official who knew those secrets and didn’t tell the President had better have a good reason for keeping them to himself. And yet the Obama Administration has offered little explanation as to why the Justice Department kept the the President in the dark about the Petraeus affair until two days after the election. Prosecutors and FBI agents knew at least as early as last July that the affair was occurring; high-level Justice officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder, knew in “late summer.” According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, the President “was obviously surprised” when he learned of the affair on Nov. 8.

(MORE: Beneath Glowing Public Image, Petraeus Had His Critics)

At a press conference Tuesday, Carney brandished the word “protocol” seven times. “There are protocols that the FBI follows with regards to these kinds of notifications,” he said. Administration officials speaking on background are a little more specific. A law enforcement official told TIME Tuesday that the investigation “was handled as routine criminal investigations and ongoing criminal investigations are handled.” Why wasn’t the President told? “Allegations get bandied about,” the official says. “So until you run those down you don’t share them outside of law enforcement. That’s one reason. Another reason — probably a more compelling reason — is criminal investigations can result in criminal charges. You don’t talk about evidence or things that might be crucial to a prosecution outside of the law enforcement agency, because you could potentially jeopardize the potential prosecution.”

Such prudence is a well-established approach, the law enforcement official says. “This has been long standing practice for many, many years.” The official cited a 2007 memo by then Attorney General Michael Mukasey regarding contacts with the White House during criminal investigations. As part of the process of cleaning up the politically motivated firing of U.S. Attorneys under his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, Mukasey issued explicit instructions that Justice officials had to follow. “Alerting the White House of an ongoing investigation? That’s a huge no-no,” the law enforcement official says.

Unfortunately for the Obama team, there are huge holes in their arguments. For starters, Mukasey himself says there is no prohibition on Justice-to-White House communication in criminal investigations. “The memo makes it quite clear that not only is that not the case, it is explicitly not the case,” Mukasey told TIME Tuesday evening. Says Mukasey: “The point is not that the White House can never be apprised of a pending criminal investigation; the point is that the White House should not reach out and influence a pending criminal investigation.”

(MORE: For Petraeus, the CIA Was an Uncomfortable Fit)

More to the point, Mukasey’s memo specifically instructs “all components of the Justice Department” that “it is critically important to have frequent and expeditious communications relating to national security matters, including counter-terrorism and counter-espionage issues.” If anything, the Mukasey memo orders Justice Department officials–including prosecutors and the FBI–to communicate with relevant political authorities when they make a discovery like they did in the Petraeus case.

The Mukasey memo isn’t binding on the current Attorney General, or the Justice Department. But it is not the only precedent that suggests the Administration handled the Petraeus affair badly. In late 1996, the CIA began an investigation of then Director John Deutch after computer security experts found classified information on his unclassified home computer, including details of some of the agency’s most closely held covert operations. His successor George Tenet was widely criticized for not informing the Justice Department about the security breach, and belatedly suspended Deutch’s security clearance.

Administration officials declined to provide any further specific protocols that prevented them telling the President about Petraeus’ affair. Instead, the Administration is trying to stretch the facts of the Petraeus case to fit the Mukasey memo and other precedents. On one hand, they argue that national security was never an issue. “Early enough on in the investigation, any national security threat was ruled out,” says the law enforcement official. On the other hand, they argue that they can’t risk telling anyone outside Justice, because Petraeus might become a target. “You don’t know where the facts are going to go. What if he becomes [a target?]” says the official.

(MORE: Petraeus Stumbles Off the Stage)

Why criminal evidence might turn up but national security evidence wouldn’t is anyone’s guess. For his part, Mukasey argues it is obvious that an ongoing extramarital affair by the CIA chief is a potential national security issue. “They know enough at the point that his name turns up,” says Mukasey. “He’s doing it on a Gmail account which any intelligence agency in the world would want to know about, and if they did know about, would feel in a position to use.”

The only remaining question is how President Obama feels about his Attorney General keeping him in the dark for so long. Presumably we’ll get that answer later today at his press conference.

Here’s the “decretal,” or tasking, part of the Mukasey memo:

“…All components of the Department, including federal law enforcement agencies and the United States’ Attorneys’ Offices shall abide by the following limitations:

“With the exception of national security related matters, which are discussed below, all initial communications between the White House staff and the Justice Department regarding any specific pending Department investigation or criminal or civil-enforcement matter should involve only the Counsel to the President or Deputy Counsel to the President and the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General. Initial communications regarding civil-enforcement matters may also involve the Associate Attorney General. Initial communications regarding a matter on appeal may also involve the Solicitor General.

“To the extent subsequent contact is required or necessary, the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General, or Solicitor General may designate others within the Department to communicate with the White House staff. In all such circumstances, this designation will be limited to the fewest number of people practicable.

“It is critically important to have frequent and expeditious communications relating to national security matters, including counter-terrorism and counter-espionage issues. Since September 2001, departments within the Executive Branch have made substantial efforts to remove barriers to information sharing and communication. Communications that relate to a national security matter and concern a litigation issue for a specific, pending case are not subject to the limitations delineated above so as not to reestablish those barriers or limit necessary communication. Nevertheless, such communications must be made known to the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General or the Office of the Associate Attorney General so that senior officials can monitor the communications and consider whether any additional limitations or safeguards are necessary.”

MORE: Senate Intelligence Committee to Probe Petraeus Affair

741 comments
Lockgod
Lockgod

Of course Mr. Obama knew.  He probably knew before anyone ELSE knew -- Axelrod's Big Brother Machine in Chicago has powers and abilities far beyond those of Mortal Men.  I'd be surprised if Axelrod doesn't have a complete transcript of every word uttered by the star crossed lovers from the moment they said "Hello!" I bet Obama plays it in his bedroom for fun!

  Obama reminds me of Captain Renault from "Casablanca."  "I am SHOCKED just SHOCKED to find (___________ fill in the blank.) going on here!!"   Outing Petraeus might have injured Obama with the electorate so of course he claims deniability.  What's fun is watching the press play "Stupid."   The Press reminds me of a nursemaid playing Peeka-boo with pre-verbal infant.  "What do we have HERE!  Oh LOOK!!  Is it a Terror Attack in Benghazi??  NOooooooooooo!  It's a boisterous bunch of boys out making fun of a video!!!  And what do we have HERE???  Could this be head of the CIA having an affair??  Oh NOOOOOOooooo it's just Something We Won't Look At until AFTER the ELECTION!  Can't endanger our meal ticket now can we???"

Future historians are going to have just a field day with this administration!!!!  If we survive long enough to have historians, that is.

superlogi
superlogi

The article asks for a conclusion premised on a falsehood.  Anyone dumb enough to think Barry had no knowledge of the FBI investigation of the CIA is living in an alternate universe or is just as mendacious as the buffoon occupying the White House.  You know the time has come where media outlets like CNN and NBC simply can't hide behind naiveté.  It's simply too obvious.

j45ashton
j45ashton

For all you conservative nut jobs:  Cantor knew about this in July.  Why didn't he blow the whistle?  Because Petraeus was a conservative darling & Cantor didn't want to hurt someone he saw as a friend of the cause.  Why didn't Holder out Petraeus earlier?  Best reason in the world.  Protect Obama from all the pre-election crazy blame-game distortions & distractions that Republican nut-jobs are known for raving about in Fox News.  The FBI had concluded there was no security breach so Holder fell on his sword to ensure the election of a decent president & keep the election from getting skewed by a love affair that had no relevance & no effect on national security at all. You conservative nut jobs try to make political hay out of anything at all.  You'd try to spin asinine conspiracy theories from a child falling off a bicycle.  Why don't you just stay on your own nut job sites where you can stoke each other to your hearts' content & leave the rational part of the country to deal with reality instead of your overworked nut-job fantasies.

pray4peacewlove
pray4peacewlove

Where is the Media coverage in the questioning of Petraeus‘s, Why is it being done in Closed Doors?

America wants to know, ITS A Simple Set Of Questions, WHO KNEW,  WHEN DID THEY KNOW,  AND  WHY WAS NOTHING DONE TO PREVENT IT !!!!!!

IT WAS THE ANNIVERSARY OF 911,  THAT DAY ALONE SHOULD HAVE RED FLAGGED THE SITUATION

pray4peacewlove
pray4peacewlove

Get it together America, he is the Commander and Chief of the United States Military, then you must realize  that the President knows about everything in real time. The Real Question We should Be demanding is 

1. Why does President Obama deflect important direct questions 

2. Why is the National News Agencies always giving the President a hallway pass.

pokerknave2
pokerknave2

The flames of 'The Obama Syndrome' are being fanned with more and more wind. Somewhere along the line a link between Benghazi, the CIA and Obama will be made and it wont look pretty.

My diagnosis based on nothing more than watching Fox News is slowly becoming a reality. Obama Syndrome is becoming real by the minute. Maybe Obama is a crook, maybe he aint but one thing is sure they were wrong about his birth certificate or were they?

http://pokerknave.com/2012/11/09/the-obama-syndrome/

rckz3
rckz3

Why Was Obama Kept in the Dark?

-----------------

How naive.  He wasn't.

Kiwipolitico6
Kiwipolitico6

Obama's assertion that he was kept in the dark simply is not credible.  Once Holder and the DoJ knew, Obama knew.  Whether he knew via 'official channels' or 'protocols' is really neither here nor there - he knew, and thus he has lied to the American people in the same way the administration is lying and covering up over what happened in Benghazi.  Pressure will be put by the administration on investigators trying to uncover the full facts, so it's entirely possible Obama will get away with this - possibly by throwing others under the bus, like Holder, or Clapper.  It's despicable.  The timing of the announcement is beyond suspicious, and the American public shouldn't be fooled for a moment longer.

reallife
reallife

Why Was Obama Kept in the Dark? 

because even his people know they're dealing with an empty suit!

EvaGonzalez
EvaGonzalez

HE WAS NOT !  Are we that gullible   ??????

roknsteve
roknsteve

If the media was high explosives they would have destroyed this planet a million times by now with trashy stories like this.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

This entire article is the work of a writer that has too much time on his hands, and needs to try writing fiction instead. The issues raised here have been asked and answered ONE BILLION times here on TIME, so I do not know what this article is trying to assert.. 

Anyway, I wanted to make a comment on Halperin. As I stated here during the elections, Halperin was so PRO-Romney it was sickening. I also stated that Romney would lose and he, Halperin, would not become the WH Press Secretary. Anyway, here is what I want to share, Halperin should change the name of his column to "THE RAGE", and not "THE PAGE". Haha.... Halperin is so angry, I am sure he can't stand it. Obama WON.... yeee hawwww....  Anyway, I reckon Halperin will be leaving for Fox News sooner than later. See YA Halperin, do not let the door HIT YA.... Yeee hawww.......  

Glades2
Glades2

It's bad news no matter how you look at it - if he was kept out of the loop that's a vote of no confidence in a sense (definitely that's a sign that the people under him do not want to work for him), and if he was in the loop, that's a whole different news story...

outsider
outsider

Finally! 

Is it game over for Grover Norquist?The anti-tax activist's grip on power, even in the GOP, has never been weaker -- just as he faces a critical test

Two meetings in Washington today tell the story of the decline of Grover Norquist, the conservative activist who is seeing his near-iron grip on GOP tax policy over the past two decades slipping. One is Norquist’s weekly “Wednesday Meeting,” a gathering of “more than 150 elected officials, political activists, and movement leaders” who plot strategy and coordinate messaging every week. After big losses at the polls in last week’s election and a fracturing conservative base just as Congress heads into its most important tax negotiations in years, it’s safe to assume that this morning’s meeting was tense.

There was a time when almost every single elected Republican in Washington and even state capitals would sign Norquist’s anti-tax pledge, which binds elected officials to a promise not to raise taxes under any circumstance. As recently as last year’s negotiations over the debt ceiling, Norquist had fealty from a majority in the House of Representatives, including Speaker John Boehner and the entire GOP leadership. “60 Minutes’” Steve Kroft labeled Norquist “the most powerful man in Washington.” Those who violate his pledge could long expect to face attack ads aimed at unseating them, bankrolled by Norquist’s massive war chest. Americans for Tax Reform spent almost $16 million on independent expenditure ads in 2012. Crossing the group has always increased the likelihood of a primary challenge.

But times are changing. Today’s second interesting meeting is taking place a few blocks away from Norquist’s downtown D.C. headquarters, at the White House, where President Obama is meeting with a dozen CEOs of the country’s biggest corporations. How did Norquist react to news of Obama reaching out to the business community, which he aims to represent in Washington? Not positively. Norquist told the Washington Post the CEOs were “acting like a group of trained seals” for Obama, posing for a “photo op” to give the president cover.

You’d think Norquist would be happy that Obama is giving an audience to the titans of the private sector, but no. That’s because the meeting, which gives the president a chance to win some business support for his agenda without any input from Norquist, represents a threat to his personal power. Is his petulant reaction — he invoked the term “poopy head” on national TV on Monday — a sign that he’s losing his once awesome power over the nation’s capital? Maybe.

Norquist faces an unprecedented rear-guard attack as the congressional GOP fractures on the tax issue. Last year, there were 238 members of the House and 41 members of the Senate who had signed Norquist’s pledge. This year, there are just 217 in the House — one shy from the 218 needed for a majority — and 39 in the Senate, an all-time low. As the Hill’s Russell Berman reports, while Norquist claims his army is 219 strong in the House, two of those members have since disavowed Norquist’s pledge.

http://www.salon.com/2012/11/14/is_it_game_over_for_grover_norquist/

skullbuster
skullbuster

Plausable Denial.  Since the Pres. & Atty Gen. are such good friends,  don't you think they would get together for a beer once in a while and don't you think the investgation of the Head of the CIA would come up.  Get real people.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

 "She (Susan Rice) has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill… and grace. As I said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided before. If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after someone they should go after me."

But I thought Obama only threw people under the bus!  This doesn't fit the spoon-fed narrative at all!

Lockgod
Lockgod

@pray4peacewlove Two words "Affirmative Action."  Obama's the "Affirmative Action" success story.  If you grew up with any of that crew, you'll note that they earned nothing and EVERYTHING was "given to them" just as Mr. Obama Proclaimed.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@pokerknave2 And maybe you are a right wing Troll just hoping that if you lie enough times someone will believe you?

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

@rckz3 IF he was kept in the dark, it wasn't the FBI that did it. It was one of his political handlers who thought he was too stupid to keep his mouth shut before the elections. The odds of that are somewhere between zero and non-existent. He knew and he didn't want it distracting the election. Anyone who thinks it was just the way "it turned out" is ... beyond belief.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@rckz3 Were you there??? Why did Cantor not go to the press??? Did you tell him not to do so? What do you know? Are you Paula Broadwell? CIA???

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@reallife Let me guess, you voted for Obama by early ballot?? Hahaha.... What a sore LOSER. Dude, get a life.

outsider
outsider

it was only a matter of time before one of you nut jobs went off on that one.

i mean, it has been 8 days already - and you are all such insanely sore losers.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

I could not agree more!! This is trash disguised as analysis. It is all about two adulterers and the love of the media for salacious NONSENSE.

EvaGonzalez
EvaGonzalez

  OF COURSE HE WAS NOT ! Are we that gullible ??????

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@outsider2011 

As Paul evidenced earlier in the thread when he said he wouldn't believe Obama if he came out and said water was wet, the GOP love to make their intractable decisions before they even know anything.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@outsider2011 

Maybe getting slapped by elections and exit polls showing how bad it is gave GOP the idea that an unconstitutional pledge to a lobbyist is a BAD idea.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@paulejb1 

The entire election summed up in a Ramirez cartoon.

Even better and worthy of a cartoon

711 Comments of wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaa, wwwwwwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@paulejb1 

You're still peddling the Free Stuff thing?  Man, you guys are going to get crushed in 2016 at this rate.  Keep it up Paul.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb1 We lost the White House as well as seats in the House and Senate, but  look a stupid cartoon!

paulejb1
paulejb1

@DonQuixotic ,

Silly boy! You don't really believe that bilge, do you, Don? Barry is always allowing some gal to take the hits for him.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@BobSheepleherder I do not know what to make of a farceur who describes the president of the United States as "stupid." Your hysterical declaration speaks more about you than it does the president. 

reallife
reallife

Are we that gullible ??????didnt you see the election results?

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@EvaGonzalez Oh, Eva, is this where we all put on our aluminum foil hats. I know you have a conspiracy theory hidden in that remark. So, to all foil hat wearing folks in the swamp, "Foil hats out, Conspiracy theories, ready set...go." HA

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@reallife What - that Republicans would get a clue and become responsible Americans, willing to do what it takes to fix this country's ailments, instead of whiny, petulant, spoiled brats, who cry if they don't get what they want?  Yeah, you're right: wishful thinking.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@DonQuixotic

paulejb believe in the swill he chews, swallow and snort.

Anything outside his bubble is just 'librul' lies.

That's how he can be convinced by people like Rush that the voting population that spanked Romney just wan't free stuff.

Of course 60 percent of post graduates - you know the 1 percenters - have all the free stuff in the world.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@paulejb1 @DonQuixotic 

I don't believe in bilge; it's why I never agree with any of the nonsense you post, especially when you never post any evidence to back up your wild allegations or assertions.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

@BenevolentLawyer @BobSheepleherder Not so quick to respond this time? Apparently not much of a "lawyer" either. If you are unable to defend your own position, I shudder to think how well you defend any of your clients. As you say, "Your hysterical declaration speaks more about you than it does the" Sheepleherder (yes, we speak in the third person ... but only to those we view as beneath us)

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

You apparently believe he is or you wouldn't have jumped to such an unobvious conclusion. It must be a chore to try and defend a person you believe is too stupid to keep well informed.

BobSheepleherder
BobSheepleherder

@BenevolentLawyer @BobSheepleherder If you would be so kind as to point out to me where I described the President as stupid, I would appreciate it, otherwise I would suggest you take a few English as a Second Language courses.

evil.aaronm
evil.aaronm

@reallife Yes, from that, I take it that the sensible people - not the radical Taliban West - won out.  Thank goodness.

Kiwipolitico6
Kiwipolitico6

@BenevolentLawyer @Kiwipolitico6   Is Piers Morgan the 'far right' then?  What about Eugene Robinson?  I don't have any left or right wing political affiliations - if this had happened under a Republican president, I'd be asking exactly the same questions and raising the same suspicions.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@Kiwipolitico6 I just read and reread your comment. Sadly, it appears to be  demented, and lacks any iota of coherence. Your convoluted twisted analysis is, like most of the Far Right conspiracy theories, BASELESS and hysterical. If this matter had come up before the elections, do you think the LOSER Romney would have won??? That was a rhetorical question. The answer is NO.

Cover up, what??? Petraeus is a known Republican who many hoped would run for elected office.So what is the cover up???? To protect this Republican? Is Cantor part of this cover up too, what about James Bond, is Bond involved too????  Emm... I know Cantor is no Obama fan, so why did he not run to the press with it???  Is Cantor's dog in danger?<< Just wanted to add a crazy remark to mirror your nutty one.

I could go in deeper into the absurdity of your "bare chest" wild conjecture on this salacious Petraeus matter, but somehow, I sense it will be a waste of time. 

Oh well, believe what you will, and wear your aluminum hat to your hearts content. But emmm..... be assured that only Far Right is selling and buying claptrap conspiracy bunk you have shared in your comment. 

I end with the remark that I am so HAPPY that  Romney, the entitled,  raging, racist/misogynistic D*** LOST and lost BIG!!   Wooooo Haaaaaa **

Kiwipolitico6
Kiwipolitico6

@BenevolentLawyer @EvaGonzalez This is not a conspiracy theory or tin foil hat territory, BenevolentLawyer -this is simply the application of logic and common sense to a timeline that reeks of manipulation rather than coincidence, and assertions of ignorance from Obama and other high ranking administration figures that completely lack any credibility.  The administration has concocted a convenient narrative involving a 'pushy, shirtless lowly FBI operative' in Tampa, who apparently refused to let the matter of threatening emails to Broadwell drop, and suspected the administration would try to cover it up, so he goes and tells some member of congress a few days before the election, who just happens to sit on that information until 5pm on election day before telling James Clapper.  Next time I see little pink pigs flying to the moon, I'll think of the 'shirtless FBI guy' and wonder if he's now working as a used car salesman..

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@paulejb1 @mantisdragon91 Poor Troll. Fox Bubble has burst and you are stuck with a bunch of idiotic graphics and nothing to do with them. Would you like a suggestion of where you can place them?

MrObvious
MrObvious

@paulejb1

I would have tried to say that more diplomatically, Ob. It is accurate however.

You are correct, what you use is best described as 'facts'. Thanks.

paulejb1
paulejb1

@MrObvious @mantisdragon91 .

"...because we're to dumb to believe in his 'facts' anyways."

I would have tried to say that more diplomatically, Ob. It is accurate however.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@mantisdragon91

paulejb don't need to prove what he says because we're to dumb to believe in his 'facts' anyways. It's the perfect excuse for the intellectually lazy. Why bother with a solid argument when you can excuse the lack of facts with 'you guys won't believe my nonsense anyways'.

Circular logic at its finest.