WASHINGTON — Weeping and standing with her celebrity lawyer, Natalie Khawam spoke publicly Tuesday for the first time since the scandal involving her sister, Jill Kelley, broke.
But Khawam offered no clarity on the situation that has led to the fall of CIA Director David Petraeus, focused questions on the top American commander in Afghanistan, opened a debate about the FBI's ability to read personal emails and put a national spotlight on Tampa's social scene.
"I look forward to the day when I am able to answer everyone's questions and explain what really happened in this matter," Khawam, 37, said at a news conference at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington.
Lawyer Gloria Allred arranged the meeting to counter what she said were inaccurate portrayals of Khawam in the news media and to press arguments in a custody case involving Khawam's son.
"Natalie is just one of the mothers in this country who has been forced to suffer because of family court decisions," Allred said, faulting a judge for not taking into account allegations of alleged domestic abuse by Khawam's ex-husband.
A judge in Washington earlier this year gave Khawam's ex-husband sole custody of the 4-year-old, saying he had "profound concerns about Ms. Khawam's poor logical thinking and her extreme distortions" and "severe psychological deficits."
In appealing the decision in September, Khawam presented to the court letters of support from Petraeus and Gen. John R. Allen, the top-ranking U.S. general serving in Afghanistan.
Allred said Tuesday that Petraeus and his wife, Holly, filed affidavits in the case out of friendship they developed and by observing her care of the boy.
"Natalie feels that they stood up for the truth as they knew it in her custody case, and she is deeply appreciative that the Petraeus family has continued to love and support her and her son during the hardest times," Allred said.
Allred's statement did not mention Allen, and when asked about his relationship with Khawam, she replied, "I have no comment on Gen. Allen." Of Petraeus, she said the relationship was "social."
Allred also refused to answer questions about emails that were exchanged between the figures in the scandal, saying they could be part of an investigation.
Kelley had informed an FBI agent she knew in Tampa that she had gotten anonymous threatening emails. That led to an investigation uncovering the extramarital affair between Petraeus and biographer Paula Broadwell. Allen was drawn in when it was discovered he and Kelley emailed extensively. Allen has said he did not act inappropriately.
After reading from a prepared statement, Allred let Khawam give a brief statement. She stepped to the microphone and waited 25 seconds before speaking, weeping as she did.
"My sister Jill and I aren't just twins, we're best friends," she said, her faint voice nearly muffled by the clicking of cameras. "During my darkest time, Jill held the light for me. She and my brother-in-law, Dr. (Scott) Kelley, took me in with my son when we needed refuge and protection."
Khawam and the boy moved to her sister's house in Tampa in 2009, without her husband's permission, leading to the custody battle.
Allred is concerned the scandal has hurt Khawam's struggle to get custody of the boy, saying there have been statements in the media that have been taken out of context.
"Of course she is hurt, as anyone would be hurt, when there are mischaracterizations about either what she has done, what she has said or what is going on in her life," Allred said. "This is in part an opportunity for us to try to set the record straight. Obviously, there is so much more than could be said, and at some future time, hopefully, Natalie will be able to address those issues. Unfortunately, that time is not today."