House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) on Monday said he found the FBI investigation that uncovered former CIA Director David Petraeus’s extramarital affair a “crisis” of “major proportions.”
“This is a crisis of, I believe, major proportions. It’s not a usual political thing,” said King on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
A report in The New York Times on Monday said that senior Justice Department (DOJ) and FBI officials were aware as early as this summer that then-Director Petraeus was having an extramarital affair and that there were concerns national security might have been compromised.
But King and other lawmakers said they first learned about the matter on Friday, when Petraeus announced that he would resign from the CIA, citing the affair.
The White House has said it was notified on Wednesday night that Petraeus might resign over an affair and that Obama was told Thursday morning.
“To have someone out there in such a sensitive position who perhaps the FBI thought could have been compromised or was under the scope of the FBI investigation who may or may not have been having an affair at the time, that certainly had to have been brought to the president or National Security Council,” said King.
He said the president was “owed that information.”
“We’re talking about a top-level national-security person. When you strip everything else aside, the president’s main obligation is to be commander in chief. To be commander in chief, he has to be able to trust his top foreign-policy and his top intelligence people. They are part of the team that keeps America safe,” he added.
The FBI first learned about the affair while investigating a complaint from a woman close to Petraeus who said she was receiving harassing emails. Those emails were tracked to Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’s biographer. Other emails in that account led FBI agents to discover an affair between Petraeus and Broadwell.
Officials said they initially feared that a private email account belonging to Petraeus had been hacked, compromising national security. After determining that no secrets had been leaked, the agents notified Petraeus of their probe two weeks ago and said they would file no criminal charges.
King on Monday questioned why the threat of harassing emails had led straight to an FBI investigation and said that agents should have consulted with superiors once they realized that the CIA director was in the scope of the probe.
“My first concern is with the FBI, why they went in with the investigation and why they didn’t tell anybody above and in that case it would have been [Attorney General] Eric Holder,” King said. “In that case, Eric Holder should have gone to the president or [FBI] Director [Robert] Mueller.
“Also, to get access to David Petraeus’s email, they would have had to get a court order. I would like to know what went into the application that the FBI filed to get that court order,” he added.
The FBI’s handling of the Petraeus probe has brought scrutiny from both sides of the aisle, with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) saying Sunday that news of Petraeus’s affair and resignation was “like a lightning bolt.” Feinstein said the FBI should have notified lawmakers sooner.
A report this weekend said that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had learned of the investigation and the Petraeus affair from an FBI whistleblower who contacted him and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.). After speaking with the whistleblower, Cantor said his office notified the FBI.
Petraeus was also slated to testify before Congress this week on the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and lawmakers have said they might still expect him to come to Capitol Hill.
“I strongly believe David Petraeus has to be a witness at that hearing, if not this week then the weeks after,” said King on Monday.