WASHINGTON — The exchange of emails between Marine Gen. John Allen, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, and a Tampa woman linked to a roiling scandal contain comments that "go beyond flirtatious and can probably be described safely as suggestive," a Defense Department official said Wednesday.
The official told McClatchy Newspapers that the investigation is ongoing into the content of the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 pages of communications between Allen and Jill Kelley, a married mother of three from Tampa who organized social events at MacDill Air Force Base.
Allen, formerly the chief of U.S. Central Command in Tampa, has said through associates that he did not have a physical relationship with Kelley or commit any wrongdoing in his email communications with her.
In a statement Wednesday night, Allen's counsel, Marine Col. John G. Baker, said: "Gen. Allen intends to fully cooperate with the inspector general investigators and directed his staff to do the same. To the extent there are questions about certain communications by Gen. Allen, he shares in the desire to resolve those questions as completely and quickly as possible."
Baker said that Allen would not comment further while the investigation was under way, "but he does sincerely appreciate the support" offered by the president, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, members of Congress and the public.
In other developments, the FBI's handling of the investigation that forced Army Gen. David Petraeus to resign came under new scrutiny Wednesday as FBI Director Robert Mueller faced questions on Capitol Hill and President Barack Obama alluded to lingering questions about the course of the probe.
In his first public comments on the controversy, Obama said he has seen no evidence that the scandal exposed classified information that might harm national security. But he stopped short of approving the FBI's handling of the inquiries into the personal e-mail communications of Petraeus and Allen.
When asked in his news conference whether he should have known sooner that his CIA chief's personal transgressions had surfaced, Obama said he was "withholding judgment with respect to how the entire process surrounding Gen. Petraeus came up. You know, we don't have all the information yet."
Obama's comments coincided with new disclosures that Broadwell had classified material and that the FBI's initial concern centered on how an anonymous sender of menacing e-mails knew so much about the official schedules of the CIA director and the commander of allied forces in Afghanistan. The anonymous e-mails eventually were traced to Broadwell.
A former colleague of Broadwell's described receiving a computer disc from her several months ago that contained material marked "secret" and included both personal schedules and power-point presentations, the Washington Post reported.
Broadwell's possession and handling of such information is at the center of the FBI probe. U.S. law enforcement officials said they found a "significant amount" of classified files on Broadwell's personal computer. They also removed boxes of evidence from her home in North Carolina in a search on Monday night.
Although Broadwell previously held a security clearance, an Army spokesman indicated Wednesday that her clearance has been suspended following the recent disclosures.
Mueller and FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce both appeared in closed session on Wednesday before the Senate Intelligence Committee, facing questions from lawmakers on key points in the Petraeus case that have become sources of controversy.
Among them are the FBI's decision to expand what began as a low-level inquiry into alleged e-mail harassment involving private citizens, leading to sustained scrutiny of the private communications of top national security officials. Even after Petraeus and Allen had come under investigation, the FBI appears to have waited months before notifying the White House or Congress.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairman of the committee, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the ranking Republican, issued a statement after the session saying that Mueller and Joyce "answered our questions. Because this is an ongoing FBI investigation, we will have no further comment."