WASHINGTON — FBI director Robert Mueller's top aide was told former CIA chief David Petraeus was having an extramarital affair that might have compromised national security a week before the Nov. 6 election, a congressional official said Monday.
The disclosure raises fresh questions about why the FBI leadership withheld the information from the nation's top intelligence official and the congressional committees that oversee the U.S. intelligence community until after President Barack Obama won re-election.
Political outcry already had flared over the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, two CIA contractors and a State Department staffer in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
New details emerged Monday of the affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, whose allegedly threatening emails to another of the former four-star Army general's friends triggered the FBI investigation that uncovered their relationship.
Late Monday, FBI agents appeared at Broadwell's Charlotte, N.C., home and appeared to be conducting a search. An FBI spokeswoman confirmed the agents' presence but did not say what they were doing.
Petraeus was shocked to learn last summer that his mistress was suspected of sending threatening emails warning Jill Kelley of Tampa to stay away from him, former staff members and friends told the Associated Press Monday.
Petraeus told these associates his relationship with Kelley was platonic, though Broadwell apparently saw her as a rival.
Petraeus, 60, and Broadwell, 40, began their affair about two months after he became CIA director in September 2011, and they had agreed to end it about four months ago, said retired Army Col. Steve Boylan, a former Petraeus aide who is acting as his unofficial spokesman.
"There weren't a lot of meetings," Boylan told McClatchy Newspapers. "Based on what I understand, it was a mutually agreed upon realization that this was something they shouldn't be doing."
Petraeus was informed of the FBI investigation at, or just before, the beginning of November, and told his wife of 38 years, Holly, just before he sent a statement to the CIA workforce on Friday, Boylan said.
"They are a very strong family. He has done a pretty bad thing and hurt them deeply," he said. "But given time and space, they can get through it."
Boylan denied that Petraeus ever passed classified information to Broadwell.
"The two were separate," he said. "One was his private life. One was his professional career."
Broadwell, a West Point graduate and Army reservist, is married with two children.
The FBI investigation that uncovered the affair started during the summer after Kelley complained to an FBI agent, who also is a personal friend, about what she considered threatening emails from an anonymous sender. The emails reportedly accused Kelley, who became friends with Petraeus and his wife while the general served as head of U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, of improper behavior with Petraeus.
The sender was eventually identified as Broadwell by FBI investigators, who found emails in her inbox that led them to conclude that she was having an affair with Petraeus.
Further complicating matters, the FBI agent who Kelley complained to might have grown obsessed with the matter and was removed from the case, the Wall Street Journal reported.
FBI officials found that he once sent shirtless pictures of himself to Kelley, the Journal reported.
Officials declined to identify the agent, who is being investigated by the internal affairs branch of the FBI, the Journal said.
It remained unclear on Monday at what point Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI director Mueller were officially notified of the investigation's findings.
A spokesman for the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that an FBI whistleblower — the Tampa agent who was cut off the case — informed the lawmaker by telephone on Oct. 27 of an affair involving Petraeus.
The agent "warned that national security or classified information may be compromised as a result of an extramarital affair on behalf of David Petraeus," Cantor's spokesman, Rory Cooper, told McClatchy Newspapers.
Cantor and his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, decided the following day to contact Mueller's office. Hurricane Sandy, however, struck that evening, shutting down Washington and forcing them to delay the call until Oct. 31, when Stombres spoke to Mueller's chief of staff, Aaron Zebley, Cooper said.
The FBI called back the following day and told Stombres that it couldn't confirm or deny the investigation that uncovered the affair.
The New York Times on Monday reported that the FBI didn't conclude that Petraeus hadn't committed a crime until after interviewing Broadwell for a second time on Nov. 2. Bureau officials then informed director of national intelligence James Clapper of the affair about 5 p.m. on Election Day.
The following day, Clapper asked Petraeus to resign. The former general submitted his resignation on Thursday to Obama, who took until the following day to accept it.
The federal government was closed Monday for Veterans Day, but the White House, the Justice Department and the FBI were expected to come under intense pressure from Congress, the news media and the public today about when they first learned of the affair.
Asked why Petraeus resigned when the FBI found no evidence that he had broken the law, Boylan replied, "He felt that based on his personal beliefs and his own ethics and values, he could not lead an organization with this having occurred. He felt the right thing was to step down."