The FBI investigation that led to the sudden resignation of David H. Petraeus as CIA director Friday began with a complaint several months ago about "harassing" emails sent by Paula Broadwell, Petraeus' biographer, to another woman who knows both of them, two government officials briefed on the case said Saturday.
When FBI agents following up on the complaint began to examine Broadwell's emails, they discovered exchanges between her and Petraeus that revealed that they were having an affair, said several officials who spoke of the investigation on the condition of anonymity. They also discovered that Broadwell possessed certain classified information, one official said, but apparently concluded that it was probably not Petraeus who had given it to her and that there had been no major breach of security. No leak charges are expected to be filed as a result of the investigation.
The identity of the woman who complained about the messages from Broadwell has not been disclosed. She was not a family member or in the government, the officials said, and the nature of her relationship with Petraeus was not immediately known. But they said the two women seemed to be competing for Petraeus' loyalty if not his affection.
One congressional official who was briefed on the matter said senior intelligence officials explained that the FBI investigation "started with two women" - evidently Broadwell and the woman who complained about her emails.
"It didn't start with Petraeus, but in the course of the investigation they stumbled across him," the congressional official said. "We were stunned."
Broadwell has made no statement since the affair became public Friday, and attempts to reach her for comment have been unsuccessful.
The circumstances surrounding the stunning collapse of Petraeus' meteoric career remain murky. It was not clear when Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. or Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the FBI, became aware that the FBI's investigation into Broadwell's emails had brought to light compromising information about Petraeus. Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for Holder, declined to comment Saturday.
Neither the congressional intelligence committees nor the White House learned of the investigation or the link to Petraeus until last week, officials said. Neither did Petraeus' boss, James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence.
A senior intelligence official said Saturday that Clapper had learned of Petraeus' situation only when the FBI notified him about 5 p.m. Tuesday, election night.That night and the next day, the official said, the two men discussed the situation, and Clapper told Petraeus "that he thought the right thing to do would be to resign," the intelligence official said.
Clapper notified the president's senior national security staff late Wednesday that Petraeus was considering resigning because of an extramarital affair, the official said.
The decisions on when to notify various administration officials, including Clapper on Tuesday, were "a judgment call consistent with policies and procedures," according to one of the government officials who had been briefed.
If the investigation had uncovered serious security breaches or other grave problems, he said, the notifications would have been immediate. As it was, however, the matter seemed to involve private relationships with little implication for national security.
Some congressional staff members said they believed that the bureau should have informed at least the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees about the unfolding inquiry. A spokesman for Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said the lawmaker had summoned Sean Joyce, the FBI's deputy director, and Michael J. Morrell, the deputy CIA director, for closed briefings Wednesday about the investigation.
Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, said Saturday an FBI employee whom his staff described as a whistle-blower told him about Petraeus' affair and a possible security breach in late October, which was after the investigation had begun.
"I was contacted by an FBI employee concerned that sensitive, classified information may have been compromised and made certain Director Mueller was aware of these serious allegations and the potential risk to our national security," Cantor said in a statement.
Cantor talked to the person after being told by Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Wash., that a whistle-blower wanted to speak to someone in the congressional leadership about a national security concern. On Oct. 31, his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, called the FBI to tell them about the call.
"They took the information," said Doug Heye, Cantor's deputy chief of staff, "and gave the standard answer: They were not able to confirm or deny any investigation, but said that all necessary steps were being taken to make sure no confidential information was at risk."
White House officials said they were informed Wednesday night that Petraeus was considering resigning because of an extramarital affair.On Thursday morning, just before a staff meeting at the White House, Obama was told.
That afternoon, Petraeus went to see him and informed him that he strongly believed he had to resign. Obama did not accept his resignation right away, but on Friday, he called Petraeus and accepted it.
Petraeus, 60, said in a statement that he was resigning after 14 months as head of the Central Intelligence Agency because he had shown "extremely poor judgment" in engaging in the affair. He has been married for 38 years.
Broadwell, 40, is also married. She and her husband have two children and live in Charlotte, N.C.
On Saturday, the two government officials who had been briefed on the case dismissed a range of media speculation that the FBI inquiry might have focused on leaks of classified information to the media or even foreign spying.
"People think that because it's the CIA director, it must involve bigger issues," one official said. "Think of a small circle of people who know each other."
The FBI investigators were not pursuing evidence of Petraeus' marital infidelity, which would not be a criminal matter, the official said. But their examination of his emails, most or all of them sent from a personal account and not from his CIA account, raised the possibility of security breaches that needed to be addressed directly with him.
"Alarms went off on larger security issues," the official said. As a result, FBI agents spoke with the CIA director about two weeks ago, and Petraeus learned in the discussion, if he was not already aware, that they knew of his affair with Broadwell, the official said.Michael D. Shear, Charlie Savage and Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting.
© 2012, The New York Times News Service