"No one should leap to any conclusions" about whether the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan did anything inappropriate when he was communicating with a Tampa socialite, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters today.
That's one of the latest developments in the scandal surrounding now-former CIA Director David Petraeus. It's a saga that has also snared Marine Gen. John Allen, who leads U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan and is in line to become the top American commander in Europe.
As we reported Tuesday, the Pentagon is investigating Allen because of 20,000 to 30,000 pages worth of emails and other electronic communications between him and Jill Kelley, a Tampa woman who has served as a social liaison at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. It's not clear exactly how many messages they actually exchanged. The number could be in the low hundreds. Documents and duplicate printouts may have boosted the number of pages into the tens of thousands.
Those communications were uncovered during an FBI investigation of allegedly harassing emails sent to Kelley by Paula Broadwell — a woman with whom Petraeus had an extramarital affair. The revealing of that affair led Petraeus to resign rom the CIA on Friday. (For help in keeping the characters in this story straight, see our earlier post: "Petraeus Affair Widens: Who's Who & What's What? Here's A Guide.")
NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman tells our Newscast Desk that in some of the emails from Allen to Kelley the general refers to her as "sweetheart." But, says Tom, "that ... might be innocent. He's from Virginia and that might be something of a quaint way he addressed her."
Some officials have told news outlets that there were "flirtatious" messages in the exchanges. The Associated Press adds this morning that officials who have read the emails say the messages were not sexually explicit, but that "some could be construed as unprofessional and would cause a reasonable person to take notice."
At the White House on Tuesday, spokesman Jay Carney said President Obama has confidence in Allen's ability to continue for now as the top commander in Afghanistan. Panetta reinforced that conclusion today, and added that the "hold" put on Allen's nomination to be the top U.S. and NATO commander in Europe was the "prudent" thing to do while the investigation is under way.
Earlier today, military writer Tom Ricks was on Morning Edition. He made the case that the stress Petraeus has been under in recent years might have "taken more out of him than we thought." Petraeus gave generously to the nation with his service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ricks said, but "when it came time for us to be generous to him we couldn't find it to forgive him."
The president, Ricks added, should have said " 'you know Dave, you really screwed up this time. You need to go home and make amends to your wife. And then your punishment, fella, is you're going back to work. ... You're too important to just be thrown out.' "
As Ricks noted, carrying on an extramarital affair did not preclude Gen. Dwight Eisenhower from being tapped to direct the D-Day invasion of Europe during World War II.
BuzzFeed's Michael Hastings, though, is no fan of Ricks' view and argues that Petraeus has long perpetuated a "fraud ... on America."
Meanwhile, some of the morning's other headlines about the Petraeus affair and related events include:
-- FBI Probes How Broadwell Obtained Classified Files. (The Washington Post)
-- "Petraeus Scandal Raises Concerns About Email Privacy." (It's All Politics)
-- "Tampa Is Seen As Social Link For Unfolding Scandal." (The New York Times)
-- "Three Women Intertwine In Downfall Of David Petraeus." (Reuters)
-- "Petraeus Friends Jill Kelley And Natalie Khawam Share Financial Troubles." (Tampa Bay Times)
Update at 5:31 p.m. ET. Broadwell Loses Security Clearance:
A U.S. official tells NPR that Paula Broadwell has suspended Paula Broadwell's security clearance.
This follows news that Jill Kelley, the other woman in the scandal, has lost her clearance to enter MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa without an escort.
"A Defense official confirms to ABC News that Kelley participated in a base program known as the 'Friends of MacDill' where she was placed on a master list that allowed her to clear security when entering the base," ABC News reported.
Update at 7:02 p.m. ET. New York Times Identifies FBI Agent:
The New York Times has identified the FBI agent who helped start the investigation that ultimately led to the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus.
The paper names Frederick W. Humphries II, 47, who the paper says is a veteran FBI agent who helped foil the millenium terrorist bombing plot in 1999.