In Washington, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Tuesday that the Petraeus scandal apparently did not involve national security, which would have triggered a requirement for congressional notification. The CIA’s acting director is talking to congressional leaders “about what has transpired and how we will go forward,” she said.
“But I think that it’s really important to note that this was a personal indiscretion, as far as we know,” Pelosi said. “Why somebody would be personally indiscreet is their own problem. Why they would do it in e-mails is beyond my imagination. But in any event, the honorable thing was done. The general has resigned.”
There are “questions about timing, just as a tradition to notify Congress before we see it on TV,” she said. “If it involves national security, though, that’s a different story. So far, we do not believe that it involves national security.”
In his statement, Panetta said Allen would remain as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan for now, “while the matter is under investigation and before the facts are determined.” The senior defense official said Allen “disputes that he has engaged in any wrongdoing,” but would not elaborate.
But his time as commander in Afghanistan may be short. Panetta has also asked the Senate to expedite the confirmation of his likely successor, Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford.
Obama had nominated Dunford last month to replace Allen. Coincidentally, the Senate Armed Services Committee had already scheduled his confirmation hearing for Thursday. Panetta said he has asked the Senate to expedite its review of Dunford’s nomination.
Allen had been simultaneously nominated by the White House to take over as chief of the military’s European Command and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. That nomination is now on hold, Panetta said, pending the outcome of the probe of his communications with Kelley.
“At the request of the secretary of defense, the president has put on hold his nomination of General Allen,” Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said in a statement. “The president remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who General Allen continues to lead as he has so ably done for over a year.”
The Obama administration is in the final stages of determining its timeline for withdrawing the remaining 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and is also debating how many trainers, Special Operations Forces and other military assets it will keep in the country after 2014, when the White House has pledged to end combat operations and hand over security responsibilities to the Afghan national army and police.
On Monday, Panetta told reporters that Allen had recently presented options to the Pentagon and White House for what the U.S. military presence could look like in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond. Panetta said the Obama administration is likely to decide that question in about two weeks. After that, the administration will map out the timeline for troop withdrawals through the end of 2014, again based largely on recommendations from Allen, defense officials said.
The latest twist in the scandal became public early Tuesday, as Panetta was flying here for two days of scheduled meetings with Australian officials. His staff abruptly distributed a prepared statement to reporters traveling with him on his military aircraft.
Panetta had met with the journalists a few hours beforehand for a short news conference about his trip to Asia and made brief comments about Petraeus’s resignation — “I think he took the right step” — but did not reveal that he had been told a day earlier that the FBI was also investigating Allen.
After his arrival in Perth, Panetta ignored a shouted question from a reporter about the Allen investigation as he entered a hotel for a meeting with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Pentagon officials said they notified the leaders of the Senate and House armed services committees about the probe of Allen’s behavior late Monday night, a few hours before Panetta issued his statement. Panetta did not shed any light into the nature of the probe; he said Allen “is entitled to due process in this matter.”
Allen was in Washington when the Pentagon learned about the FBI investigation, the senior defense official said. He was informed of the FBI and Defense Department Inspector General probes by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Dempsey, who is in Perth along with Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, phoned Allen from Australia on Monday evening, Washington time, according to a senior U.S. military official.
Although the FBI has shared the e-mails and other documents with the Pentagon, the senior defense official would not describe them in detail or say whether they were romantic in nature.