Petraeus resignation: lawmakers say they should have been told about affair investigation

Congressional Leaders Kept in the Dark About Investigation

Congressional Leaders Kept in the Dark About Investigation

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Nov. 11 2012 12:06 PM

Why Did FBI Keep White House and Congress in the Dark About Petraeus Investigation?

Sen. Dianne Feinstein says the FBI should have told lawmakers the CIA director was under investigation

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When FBI investigators interviewed then-CIA director David Petraeus around two weeks ago over a probe that was launched in the spring, he came clean to having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. At the time there was no suggestion he was going to resign. Once Director of National Intelligence James Clapper found out though, he immediately told Petraeus he should step down. But that didn’t happen until Election Day. And it remains unclear why the FBI waited so long to tell Clapper there was an ongoing investigation, points out Reuters.

Leaders in Congress area none too happy they were also left in the dark for so long. Clapper found out about the affair Tuesday night, and told the White House Wednesday. Yet Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who leads the intelligence committee, said she found out about Petraeus’ affair through the media. "It was like a lightning bolt," Feinstein told Fox News on Sunday. “We will investigate why the committee didn’t know,” the California Democrat said. “We should have been told.”  

For his part, House Homeland Security Chairman Rep. Peter King told CNN that at least the president should have been told earlier, reports the Hill. “The FBI should have had an obligation to tell the president,” King said. “It just doesn’t add up.”

Unnamed sources who defend the lack of notification to lawmakers insist the situation would have been different if investigators had uncovered security breaches. Yet it all began as a possible criminal investigation and Petraeus wasn’t the subject of the inquiry in the first place.

"This investigation wasn't about the CIA director, it was about what looked like a cyber crime," an official tells the Wall Street Journal. "There are strict rules, there is a wall, about sharing information on ongoing criminal investigations."

One expert explains to Politico that although, by law, Congress must be informed about “significant intelligence activities or failures” what “significant” means is “left undefined and in the eye of the beholder.” In this case it’s not clear whether it really made sense for the FBI to inform lawmakers of an investigation before they knew where it was headed first.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.