During a November 14 press conference, President Barack Obama defended why the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice did not immediately disclose to him that former CIA director David Petraeus was ensnared in an investigation that has now erupted into a scandal.
At his first press conference in months, Obama said the DOJ and FBI have general protocols about when to notify him of an inquiry into a high-level administration official, if it starts off as a potential criminal investigation. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. knew that Petraeus had been linked to an FBI investigation as far back as late summer, according to the Wall Street Journal—but the White House said Obama only learned of Petraeus’ affair when the general offered his resignation on November 8.
Obama said in response to a question about the scandal: “You know, one of the challenges here is that we’re not supposed to meddle in, you know, criminal investigations and that’s been our practice.”
“And, you know, I think that there are certain procedures that both the FBI follow or DOJ follow when they’re involved in these investigations,” Obama said. “That’s traditionally been how we view things in part because people are innocent until proven guilty and we want to make sure that we don’t pre-judge these kinds of situations.”
Months ago, FBI agents following up on an email harassment complaint discovered exchanges between Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, his biographer, that revealed that they were having an affair, and also found that Broadwell possessed classified information, the New York Times reported. The agents decided there had been no major breach of security by the time Holder was first notified of Petraeus’ involvement.
A number of leaders of congressional intelligence committees, including Senate Select Committee on Intelligence chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), fumed in the media because they did not hear about the probe until Obama accepted Petraeus’ resignation. She has vowed to investigate who made that decision.
Former DOJ and White House officials say the timing of the disclosures will prompt discussion about when Holder and future attorneys general should share information about investigative into high-level administration officials with the White House and Congress.
Also at the press conference Tuesday, Obama addressed questions about the fiscal cliff and legislative plans for the next four years. He declined to disclose any considerations for any cabinet positions, including whether Holder would remain attorney general. “Those are things that are still being discussed,” Obama said.
Contact Todd Ruger at firstname.lastname@example.org.