Gen. David Petraeus’s Resignation Fuels Conspiracy Theories

Days before he was to testify on the Benghazi assault, the CIA director quit. Was he hiding more than an affair? By Eli Lake.

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Just days before he was scheduled to testify before Congress on the assault in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. diplomat Chris Stevens, Gen. David Petraeus resigned as director of the CIA on Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair.

Petraeus did not name the woman with whom he had the affair. A congressional staff member who deals with intelligence issues identified her to The Daily Beast on Friday as Paula Broadwell, the author, with Vernon Loeb, of the retired four-star general’s biography, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.

Senior U.S. officials say Petraeus informed the White House on Wednesday about the affair, just one day after President Obama won election to his second term. The president learned the news Thursday and considered his options that evening, according to one senior U.S. official. On Friday, he accepted Petraeus’s resignation.

Petraeus himself went public in a curt statement distributed Friday afternoon. It said, “Yesterday afternoon, I went to the White House and asked the president to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position as D/CIA. After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”

On Friday, staff of the House and Senate intelligence committees were informed about the affair. One intelligence-committee staff member said, “We were told he knew that eventually at some unknown time this was going to come out, and he wanted to get out ahead of this bad story.”

The news came as a shock to the inner circle of advisers and friends who surrounded Petraeus as he rose from battlefield general in Iraq to his role at the top of the CIA. As late as early Friday afternoon, advisers at the CIA were confirming the general’s schedule for the following week—appearances that now have been shelved.

Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and a mentor to Petraeus, said Friday, “I feel sad, and I feel a desire to be very supportive of him as a friend.” Keane was one of the director’s closest advisers when he took command of allied forces in Iraq. In 1991, Keane stayed with Petraeus after he was shot in his heart at a live-fire exercise at Fort Campbell, Ky.

“I am sad he is going to be ripped to shreds by the media and we are going lose sight of his tremendous accomplishments as one of America’s most distinguished generals,” said Max Boot, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and an informal adviser to Petraeus in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petraeus for a moment was a favorite among some Republicans for a presidential run. In 2007, as he commanded the troop surge and counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that over time led to an American withdrawal from the country, the general faced strong opposition from antiwar Democrats, who accused him of lacking candor in his assessments of the fighting. When President Obama came into office in 2009, he allowed Petraeus to finish his term in charge of Central Command, the region that included Iraq and Afghanistan. When Petraeus dismissed his commander in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, Petraeus took over his responsibilities as well.

By the time Petraeus came to his job as director of the CIA, he was largely behind the scenes, often turning down requests for media interviews. Broadwell was one of the few writers to get access to him during this period.