Whatever happened that night -- and the only on-the-record account we have insists nothing untoward occurred -- by the time the proverbial check had been paid, four careers and reputations had been damaged.
One of the other two so sullied, Jill Kelley -- often referenced in the media as a "Tampa socialite" -- on Thursday dropped her case against the U.S. government for violating her privacy rights by leaking her name to the media.
Monday, however, privacy concerns notwithstanding, Kelley reveals in a new book some of the most intimate details and allegations about the 2012 scandal that helped lead to the premature retirements of then-CIA Director David Petraeus and Marine Gen. John Allen.
For the first time, according to Kelley, we now know what alarmed Petraeus's biographer and extramarital partner Paula Broadwell, and we now know what she emailed others anonymously, prompting an FBI investigation with an explosive conclusion.
In "Collateral Damage: Petraeus/Power/Politics and the Abuse of Privacy," which Kelley self-published, the former "honorary ambassador" of CENTCOM finally explains what the fuss was all about: The allegation by Broadwell that Kelley intimately fondled Petraeus under the table at that restaurant on Easter weekend four years ago.
It would all seem so silly and inconsequential if the personal drama hadn't been so incredibly consequential.
Kelley denies it all, and begins the book with a lengthy insistence that she has always been faithful to her husband and has never "acted inappropriately."
But she also suggests in her book that Petraeus told the FBI that the fondling did indeed take place. A source familiar with the law enforcement investigation confirms that Petraeus did tell the FBI that inappropriate and intimate fondling took place -- and that it was mutual for both Petraeus and Kelley.
Neither Petraeus nor Broadwell responded to a request for on-the-record comment.
'My best friend'
Kelley has written this book, she says, to detail the many ways she feels the government overreached and violated her privacy and that of others in what she concludes was an attempt to gather dirt on powerful players like Petraeus.
In "Collateral Damage," Kelley writes of her life and working her way up to be "honorary ambassador" of CENTCOM in Tampa, hosting lavish parties for generals and diplomats.
Kelley acknowledges in the book that she had a close relationship with Petraeus, whom she calls "my best friend, my avatar, my 'id', my twin brother."
And she fills the book with dozens of emails between them in which they refer to each other by nicknames -- she called him "James Bond," he called her "safira," Arabic for ambassador. As evidence of the innocence of it all, she notes that Holly Petraeus and Dr. Scott Kelley were also often included in the correspondence; Kelley says the email address she uses is shared by her and her husband.
On May 11, 2012, their relationship and the world she had constructed for herself all would begin crashing down. That day, another CENTCOM friend from Tampa, Gen. John Allen -- then commander of ISAF forces in Kabul -- emailed her. Allen was alarmed by a message he received from a weird email address -- Kelleypatrol@gmail.com -- issuing a stark warning about a dinner he and his family were to have with the Kelleys and Petraeuses upon his return to the U.S.
"Just don't let her play with you under the table at your dinner this month like she does to charm other four-star officers, Ambassadors and officials," the email stated.
The email, Allen noted to Kelley, "was sent by someone who knows we're having dinner this month. Very strange."
In the book, Kelley seems to think the roots of the allegation were planted at a dinner the month before when she and her husband, her twin sister and her boyfriend, and Petraeus and his wife, Holly, ate and drank at Bourbon Steak at the Georgetown Four Seasons.
Kelley and Petraeus would joke about their athletic ambitions, she explains, and at this dinner they "tested each other's muscles to see who had the hardest quadriceps, while our spouses looked on in tolerant amusement as they understood our athletic competitiveness. Perhaps a bit tipsy, David got a little enthusiastic comparing our quads."
At another point that evening, she writes: "There was too much alcohol flowing that day. Leaning toward me, David sloppily spilled wine on my dress."
Kelley thought little of any of it, she insists, but she also includes an email from Petraeus a week later in which he wrote they "can't repeat events of the latter part of the dinner last Saturday night. OK?"
She wrote back "Yup! But no need to apologize for spilling your drink on me, Bond. No big deal."
She includes photographs of the evening in the book, as well as on its cover.
Events set in motion
Whatever happened under that Four Seasons table appears to have set in motion events that would have an impact on the world, from the Pentagon to Kabul. Because the email from Broadwell to Allen was just the first of many.
Colleagues of Broadwell have said that she sent the emails because Petraeus had jokingly suggested to Broadwell that she help him extricate himself from Kelley's attention. They also say Petraeus told Broadwell that Kelley would "ruin him" in Washington if he tried to push her away.
On June 3, 2012, another harassing email appeared in Scott Kelley's inbox. This one was from email@example.com, another alleged Broadwell missive noted in the book.
"As her husband, you might want to examine your wife's behavior and see if you can rein her in before we publicly share the pictures of her with her hand sliding between the legs of a senior serving official (while at a DC restaurant). (You might actually question why she travels to DC so often, and ensure she is supervised when alone with senior government including SOCOM and CENTCOM officials... Her continued inappropriate and suggestive behavior will otherwise become an embarrassment to all. This info genuinely shared and I hope that such embarrassment for all, including spouses, such as info in national headlines, maybe averted."
These messages concerned Jill Kelley, she writes. Someone behaving strangely knew about the comings and goings of senior military officials. So Kelley alerted the FBI, which began investigating.
And Scott Kelley kept getting emails, according to his wife's book.
"Would you like to know whom she has fondled?" asked one.
"Did you ask Jill about her promiscuous and adulterous behavior yet?" inquired another.
"Be sure to watch Jill's hands under the DC dinner table this Friday," warned another, before a scheduled family dinner with Petraeus. "They have been seen there before."
Scott Kelley called his wife in a panic on June 11, 2012, according to the book. "Tampa angel" had emailed him again, writing:
"Ask Jill about suggesting 'doggy style' to Harward" -- a reference to CENTCOM deputy commander Bob Harward.
Kelley says the remark was more innocent than it sounds. She and her husband had been having drinks with Harward in Tampa.
"I had ruthlessly teased Harward about his lacking athletic prowess.... While we were talking about competitive swimming I cracked a joke: 'the stroke you compete in is doggy style.' Now, OK, you might say 'doggy paddle.'...that's fine. I said 'doggy style' instead, but I said that with the appropriate, nonsexual gesticulation. I actually paddled. Everyone knew what the heck I was talking about in the moment."
The FBI investigation quickly uncovered that the emails had been sent by Paula Broadwell, who had been involved intimately with Petraeus. Of more importance than the extramarital relationship was the revelation that he had allowed his biographer and extramarital partner access to confidential information.
Last April, Petraeus pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified materials by allowing Broadwell access to eight personal notebooks that included, among other classified matters, the identities of covert officers. He was sentenced to two years' probation and a $100,000 fine.
Agents concluded, law enforcement sources tell CNN, that Broadwell posed no threat to Kelley or anyone else. They believed that Broadwell was motivated by emotions, worried about a rival for Petraeus's affection.
In the summer and fall of 2012, Petraeus urged Kelley several times to tell the FBI that she was no longer interested in pursuing a case, Kelley writes.
"Btw, got the g-men called off now?" he asked her in July.
She emailed the FBI that she had "decided to NOT press charges against my stalker."
By then, it seems clear, the investigation was too far along.
Were more nefarious agendas at play? Kelley recalls a conversation with a friend, FBI agent Fred Humphries, in July.
"They read all your emails," he told her. "Even though you said 'No!... Not only did they read your emails, but they read Director Petraeus' and General Allen's too. They said Petraeus and Allen are both coming down after the election!... They made this simple investigation harder than it needs to be. It's bad, Jill. It's really bad."
In August, Petraeus told Kelley that Broadwell was behind the emails. Kelley remembers the conversation this way, in part:
"Do you realize she stalked all the generals and they can't wait to have her in jail for all the panic, security breaches, and threats she's brought on?" Kelley asked. "Why the hell did she target me? How did she even know about me?"
Petraeus, Kelley writes, "explained that he had asked Paula Broadwell to interview me for the chapter on leadership" in her biography of him "All In."
"When I told her how dynamic and skilled my safira was, she became obsessed with knowing all about you," Petraeus told Kelley, she writes. "Then she saw a photo of you, and when she saw how pretty you are, she got twisted. I tried to end her jealousy by telling her that if she met you she would like you, and you weren't a threat since you were a longtime family friend. I even tried to tell her that you are married to a doctor named Scott. But nothing could stop her... As soon as I figured out it was her, I told her to stop the stalking."
The next day, Kelley and Petraeus paddle-boarded on the Potomac River along with Petraeus' daughter and her fiancé. After out-paddling his security detail, Kelley asked him: "David, how could you have trusted this woman with your career and reputation? She's going to destroy everything you work your entire life for!"
"Jill," he replied, "This is out of control. She is so out of control. I don't know what to do, but you need to call off the Feds."
This moment when Kelley learned of the identity of the person sending the emails but did not share it with the FBI was a pivotal one, the source familiar with the investigation tells CNN.
It was a moment when the FBI, already suspicious of how Kelley behaved with these men in power, felt for certain that she was not being transparent with FBI agents even though they were the ones she had asked to investigate the emails, the source says.
Through the fall, Kelley and Petraeus seemed to think they could will this away. Kelley, in a September email, told Petraeus that she complied with his request and had told the FBI she didn't want to pursue the matter, but she needed Petraeus to get Broadwell to stop sullying her reputation around town.
"I won't let them arrest her (they want to proceed -- but I keep refusing to press charges...)," she emailed him. "Please, please ask her to leave me alone. I don't want to be part of any of the drama."
News of the Broadwell affair broke following Petraeus's resignation in November 2012, after which government officials leaked Broadwell's and then Kelley's name to the media while also suggesting the Pentagon was investigating whether there was an inappropriate relationship between Kelley and Allen, based on email traffic between the two.
Again Kelley insists there was nothing untoward in her relationships with either Petraeus or Allen. In her book she refers to a force driving the investigation at the Pentagon, a man she calls "The Big Dog," whom she does not name.
To provide evidence of the innocence of her relationship with Allen, she includes one of the emails she suggests had been alluded to by senior government officials as having raised eyebrows: "Saving myself for a glass of Riesling in Tampa," he wrote her.
(Sources familiar with the emails tell CNN that there were other emails from him that caused concern, though Allen denies any were inappropriate.)
With this news, another career was at least partially damaged. Allen had been on track to be commander of EUCOM, but then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta suspended his confirmation hearings until the results of a subsequent misconduct inquiry by the Pentagon inspector general that ultimately cleared him.
But by then, with other considerations including a sick wife, Allen retired from the military in March 2013. He has since served the Obama administration in diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.
After her name was leaked and camera crews descended upon her house, Kelley pleaded with Petraeus to issue a statement clearing her name, she writes.
Petraeus over and over in emails declined. She writes that she eventually realized through others that Petraeus has told the FBI that the fondling was real:
"Little did I know that Petraeus had already tried to mitigate the investigation on Broadwell during his FBI interview a few weeks before. I later learned from reporters that Petraeus was advised that if he misrepresented my relationship with him, his mistress would be spared from jail time. He probably thought that if he played along with the narrative, everything would work out for her. Apparently, it worked -- -- but only for her. I say this because it has been asserted through government leaks that I inappropriately touched Petraeus."
The book, she says, is intended as a warning to the public about the government being able to read emails and leak information about individuals with impunity. After she complained to the FBI about emails being sent about her to her friends and family, the subsequent investigation made her feel as if she were under investigation. E-mails of hers that were unrelated to the alleged cyber-stalking were inappropriately read by the U.S. government, she claims.
"The only reason that there possibly could be for this type of overreach is to get trash to leverage against the powerful people I was in contact with for nefarious agendas," Kelley writes. "Instead of focusing on the question of criminality" -- allegedly by Broadwell -- "they focused on the salacious details of her actions, which had more political currency. The invasion of our lives, this drama, this investigation, was simply a tool for digging up dirt on political targets."
There is another explanation, of course, according to the source familiar with the law enforcement investigation: the FBI agents assigned looked into who was sending these emails, and discovered that there had been a great deal of what they considered to be unusual behavior between Kelley and many high-ranking officials in the military and the government, including the director of the CIA. They considered it within their purview to make sure there wasn't anything more to it than what it seemed, and while doing so found out that the director of the CIA was illegally sharing classified information.
Kelley and her husband sued the U.S. government, claiming that by leaking Kelley's name, anonymous federal officials violated the U.S. Privacy Act. But on March 17 the Kelleys' attorneys at Sidley Austin withdrew from the case and one week later Jill Kelley announced that she was dropping the suit altogether, an odd turn of events that seems likely to have been motivated at least in part by Kelley's book.
Why was it self-published? Kelley tells CNN she "spoke with several top publishers and producers. They were very interested but wanted to delay the publication because we're in an election year. But as a privacy rights advocate against abusive government surveillance, the story needs to be told -and not politically delayed."
Kelley writes: "Let me be clear: I never groped CIA Director General David Petraeus. That's absurd. It did not happen. And if it did, why would I go to the FBI if I were having an affair with the director of the CIA? That's even more absurd."
There is an absurdity to all of this, without question, particularly as one reads emails by Allen about American troops killed in Afghanistan or as one contemplates what was at stake in Petraeus' job in Langley while this mess was going on.
As the source familiar with the investigation tells CNN, this ended up being less a national security story than a human tragedy. Even at the highest levels of government and the military, people are still fallible and make stupid mistakes. It's just that when they do the stakes are higher.