Jill Kelley had barely grown accustomed to her status as an unwilling celebrity when she was flooded with opportunities to cash in.
There was a $250,000 offer for an interview with a tabloid television show, Kelley says. Book publishers proffered deals worth millions for the inside story of the David Petraeus scandal. There was even talk from publicists who she says approached her about a clothing line and a possible Super Bowl ad.
She turned them all down.
But despite her best efforts, the Tampa socialite cannot seem to put the controversy behind her.
NBC reported Wednesday that Gen. John Allen is likely to withdraw his nomination as NATO’s top commander because he does not want to put his family through confirmation hearings in which his extensive email correspondence with Kelley will be a subject. A Pentagon inquiry cleared Allen of any wrongdoing in connection with the emails, which Kelley has said were straightforward and not flirtatious. But if Allen does withdraw, his decision shows that the issue remains explosive.
Kelley, for her part, mainly wants her life back. In the weeks since she sat down with The Daily Beast, Kelley says she has been deluged almost around the clock by calls and messages from television anchors, producers and bookers. Some are offering to fly her to New York and put her up in luxury accommodations for an extended period. She says Oprah, the morning-show hosts, and others all have made pitches. But Kelley doesn’t want to be on TV.
“It’s overwhelming,” she told me recently, “but not as overwhelming as waking up and still reading another absurd article about me.”
You might think the scandal’s half-life would be over by now. But for Kelley it remains a constant problem, with ordinary people taking her picture on the street. She and her husband have stayed away from their church for fear of creating a spectacle. They have not visited their children’s schools, or attended their plays, for the same reason.
After an unpleasant incident with a stranger on the street, Kelley thought of calling 911 but decided against it—since her last such call was replayed everywhere in the media.
It was back in November when Petraeus resigned as CIA director after acknowledging an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Kelley came under the spotlight when it emerged that Broadwell, apparently concerned about her friendship with Petraeus, had anonymously sent her threatening emails. Kelley quickly came under scrutiny over what turned out to be hundreds of emails (not 30,000, as widely reported) with Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Kelley has complained to friends about Amy Scherzer, a Tampa Bay Times reporter who attended a bash hosted by Kelley two years ago and—after assuring Kelley they were just for personal use—took pictures of her leaning her head toward Petraeus’s shoulder.
When the scandal erupted, Scherzer published the photos in her paper, and they appeared in many other outlets.
“This is one of the things I hate about my job. I'm not enjoying this! Who knew there would be such interest in old pics,” Scherzer wrote in an email to Kelley.
Barry Klein, the paper’s city editor, says when Kelley invited Scherzer, “she was quite aware Amy would be attending as the society columnist for the Tampa Bay Times. Amy wore a press ID at the party. Mrs. Kelley introduced Amy to the general as a reporter.” The Times published one photo from the party at the time, he says, then published more and sold them to other outlets after the scandal broke last fall.
Magazine journalist Vicky Ward, while in Florida, left Kelley a voicemail message saying that her editor at Vanity Fair “won’t let me go back to New York without talking to you” and that she wanted to return to “my children, who need me desperately in New York.”
In a voicemail the next day, Ward made another pitch for the interview: “I do think it would be better for you to control the piece.” And in an email to Kelley’s husband, Scott, Ward offered a deal: “I can give you a list of four questions in advance.”
In the end, Vanity Fair, where Ward had been a contributing editor, did not publish her piece. A spokeswoman declined to comment on editorial decisions.
Instead, Town & Country ran a version of Ward’s profile of Kelley and her twin sister, Natalie Khawam. The piece likened the sisters to the Kardashians, depicting them as provocatively dressed social climbers and saying that Tampa society mavens “would be damned if they were going to let the twins reduce them, and their town, to the level of tabloid and reality show sleaze.”
Kelley’s spokesman, Gene Grabowski, calls the article “a particularly gratuitous and vicious attack on a woman who has done nothing wrong."
Ward told me by email that it was “ridiculous” to say she provided assurances that either Kelley could control the piece. She says she conveyed through their publicist “that if a person speaks for a piece, then they take up space rather than giving that space to others. They chose not to speak. They asked for friends to speak on their behalf,” but most did not.
Ward says she relied on “many, many sources,” including Tony Khawam, the ex-husband of another Kelley sister, and that “everything has been fact-checked and double-checked with the multiple sources.”
Kelley hasn’t led a perfect life; she and her husband have had financial difficulties stemming from a default on a building they owned. Her style is too showy for some people. But journalists would not have been camped out on her lawn had the Petraeus mess not exploded around her.
So why all the focus on Jill Kelley? Petraeus isn’t talking about what happened. Allen isn’t talking about what happened. And Broadwell, whose anonymous emails prompted Kelley to go to the FBI, has remained silent.
Kelley has been extremely reluctant to talk about Broadwell. When I pressed her again, she said: “The countless false headlines caused by Ms. Broadwell’s actions have prolonged the unnecessary and unwarranted suffering to my family.”