David Petraeus’ affair with his biographer ended his 37-year career. But the damage from this episode goes far wider

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Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images

CIA Director David Petraeus testifies before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee during a full committee hearing on "World Wide Threats" in Washington, D.C. Jan. 31, 2012

Meanwhile, Kelley’s life and family were singed by the spotlight. Reports cast doubt on the charitable work of the Doctor Kelley Cancer Foundation that Jill and her husband Scott Kelley had established, which spent little of its money on its declared missions “to conduct cancer research and to grant wishes to terminally ill adult cancer patients.” Instead the foundation devoted most of its dollars to meals, entertainment, travel and auto and office expenses. Altogether, Kelley looked as if she were auditioning for the lead in The Real Housewives of Tampa.

The media excavation of the Kelley family fortunes further revealed that Petraeus and Allen took the step, unusual for current and former four-star officers, of intervening in a civilian child-custody case. District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz found Kelley’s sister Natalie Khawam had misrepresented “virtually everything.” But Petraeus and Allen averred that she was an honorable, loving and reliable mother. Kravitz apparently did not give them much credence. He awarded custody of Khawam’s son to her estranged husband Grayson Wolfe, who once worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad.

By that point the public was obsessed with the details of a case whose players themselves seemed obsessed: law-­enforcement officials revealed that the FBI special agent—Frederick Humphries II, according to the New York Times—who took Kelley’s case to the Tampa field office in the first place had a personal ­friendship with her that included his sending a ­shirtless photograph of himself. Law-enforcement sources said he repeatedly intervened to advance the case, to which he was not assigned, and in late October he telephoned two House Republicans, Dave Reichert and Eric Cantor, to report his ­belief—­erroneous, law-­enforcement officials insist—that Obama’s Justice Department was covering up the case for unspecified political reasons. Humphries, according to the Wall Street Journal, is now the subject of an ethics probe by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility.

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

As for Broadwell, she instantly became an object of mass fixation, on everything from her Dickensian name to her fitness  (she out-push-upped Jon Stewart on The Daily Show) to her vast “ambition,” which depending on the headline writer was either an asset or a slur. Everything about the story twisted into knots the standard narratives  about sex and power and values and victims and who exactly gets cast as the protagonist when two married people stray. A homecoming queen from North Dakota whom classmates voted “most likely to be remembered,” Broadwell, like Petraeus, graduated from West Point, with academic, fitness and leadership honors. She earned advanced degrees at Harvard, where she first met Petraeus, and the University of Denver, and she was recalled to active duty three times after 9/11. On Twitter, she describes herself as an author, national-security analyst, Army vet, women’s rights activist, runner, skier, surfer, wife and “Mom!” About three years ago, Broadwell settled in Charlotte, N.C., with her husband Scott, a radiologist in a local medical group, and their two sons. “Yes, I wear a number of hats,” Broadwell told Inspired Woman magazine in February. “But my most important title is mom and wife.”

Discretion or Protection?
Thus far it is undisputed that word of the Petraeus affair first reached the White House on Wednesday, Nov. 7, the day after Obama’s re-election, in a telephone call from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. to National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Obama was celebrating with his family and staff in Chicago, and Donilon decided to hold the news until Thursday morning. Hours later, in the Oval Office, Obama told ­Petraeus he was not ready to accept the CIA chief’s resignation. “He wanted to sleep on it,” an Administration official says.

By Friday, there was no saving Petraeus. The Justice Department informed the White House Counsel’s office of the discovery of Allen’s voluminous correspondence with Kelley. Allen’s nomination for the NATO job, with Senate hearings set to begin within days, was put on hold and risked being withdrawn. It was the second time in three days that Obama had been caught unaware by long-simmering investigations within his government. “The President,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney, “was obviously surprised.”

Should Attorney General Holder have informed the President sooner? “I am withholding judgment,” the President told reporters. The unexpected discovery of Petraeus in the Kelley case put the Justice Department in a bind. Nobody wants to return to the days when J. Edgar Hoover used the secrets in his files for political advantage, so deciding what to tell the White House about the private lives of public figures requires great discretion. White House advisers say they are content for the Justice Department to follow its established protocols. But federal officials have offered conflicting and sometimes inaccurate explanations of what the protocols say.

One senior law-enforcement official says a 2007 memo by Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey set strict limits on White House–Justice communication in criminal investigations. “Alerting the White House of an ongoing investigation? That’s a huge no-no,” the official says.

But the Mukasey memo said something quite different. In criminal cases, it said, Justice should balance the value of secrecy from the “law enforcement perspective” against the information “important for the performance of the President’s duties.” And in national-security cases, the memo specifically stated that no such restriction applied. Mukasey tells TIME 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,” Mukasey says. “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.”

MORE: Could Petraeus Face a Court-Martial?

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