Conspiracy theorists are offering all kinds of dark and
convoluted guesses for why President Obama was not informed of the
extramarital affair that brought down former CIA director David
Petraeus until two days after the Nov. 6 elections.
But in the end the explanation may lead back to Watergate, and
steps taken after the 1970s scandal to build a protective wall
between the Justice Department criminal investigations and the White
Congress is likely to be reminded of that wall as it probes the
national security ramifications of the Petraeus scandal with a
series of closed-door hearings this week.
On Thursday, the Senate and House intelligence committees will
meet with the acting CIA director, Michael Morell, and the director
of national intelligence, James Clapper, to try to clarify any link
between General Petraeuss actions and the CIA response to the Sept.
11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
In particular, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne
Feinstein (D) of California says she wants to know what Petraeus
learned from a trip he took to Libya in late October.
But first on Wednesday, House intelligence leaders will sit down
with the FBIs deputy director, Sean Joyce, and Mr. Morell to try to
answer some of the basic questions left unanswered in the wake of
Petraeuss resignation. The celebrated four-star general stepped down
last Friday after an FBI investigation into a case of
cyberharassment led to evidence of the spy chiefs affair with a
former military intelligence officer who was also his biographer.
The House intelligence leaders want to know who knew what when,
and in particular why it took so long for investigators to inform
the White House and congressional leaders of a matter involving the
CIA director with possible national security implications.
The FBI is said to be establishing a timeline to present to
members of Congress. To explain why a probe that is said to have
begun in May as a criminal investigation did not come to Mr. Obamas
attention until Nov. 8, FBI officials are likely to cite policies
dating from the 1970s that prohibit the Bureau from sharing such
information with the White House.
According to those policies, the FBI, as part of the Justice
Department, is not supposed to share information about its criminal
investigations with the White House. The FBI began its investigation
into possible criminal activities after a woman, now identified as
Jill Kelley, a family friend of David Petraeus and his wife Holly,
reported receiving threatening e-mails.
The investigation revealed that the e-mails were from Paula
Broadwell, who was subsequently identified as the woman carrying on
an affair with Petraeus.
One problem with the Watergate explanation for why the FBI did
not take what it discovered to the White House and intelligence
leaders in Congress is that it conflicts with another requirement of
federal law, which is that the executive branch keep Congresss
intelligence committees informed about important intelligence