The exchange of emails between Marine Gen. John Allen, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, and a Florida woman linked to a roiling scandal contain comments that "go beyond flirtatious and can probably be described safely as suggestive," a Defense Department official said Wednesday.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the investigation is ongoing into the content of the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 pages of communications between Allen and Jill Kelley, a married mother of three from Tampa who organized social events at MacDill Air Force Base.
The base is home to the U.S. Central Command, where Allen, who is also married with children, served as second in command before becoming head of all allied forces in Afghanistan more than a year ago.
The unexpected cloud over the four-star general grew out of the sex scandal involving retired Gen. David Petraeus, a decorated and popular figure who stepped down as CIA director last week after just 14 months, following the disclosure of an extramarital affair with his biographer.
Both Allen and Kelley have denied having a sexual relationship. But the FBI investigation uncovered a trove of communication between the two that has not yet been fully discussed or analyzed, according to the Pentagon official.
Still, the official cautioned that media reports indicating some of the messages verged on "an email version of phone sex" probably went too far. What is known is that the scandal embroiling top leaders of the American military and intelligence community does not appear to be dying down.
Allen is slated to take over the role as top NATO commander in Europe. But President Barack Obama, who has spoken highly of the general and has relied on his military acumen, has put the nomination on hold pending an investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general.
In a statement Wednesday night, Allen's counsel, Marine Col. John G. Baker, said: "Gen. Allen intends to fully cooperate with the inspector general investigators and directed his staff to do the same. To the extent there are questions about certain communications by Gen. Allen, he shares in the desire to resolve those questions as completely and quickly as possible."
Baker said that Allen would not comment further while the investigation was under way, "but he does sincerely appreciate the support" offered by the president, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, members of Congress and the public.
The rapidly evolving scandal stems from a request by Kelley that the FBI look into several anonymous emails that she received last summer, which she perceived as threats. But the probe unexpectedly uncovered a bombshell -- the affair between Petraeus and Paula Broadwell, an Army Reservist and researcher who authored his biography and who appeared to have a close working relationship with him.
Petraeus, a retired Army four-star general who is married -- as is Broadwell -- resigned his CIA post last week after acknowledging their relationship.
Though somewhat hazy, the events leading up to that decision appear to be that Broadwell allegedly contacted Allen to warn him about Kelley. The general then allegedly forwarded those emails to Kelley, triggering the FBI's involvement.
FBI agents were in Broadwell's Charlotte, N.C., home Tuesday and removed materials, underscoring a concern that she was in possession of classified materials. The Army has suspended her security clearance.
At his news conference Wednesday, the president said, "I have no evidence at this point from what I've seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security."
On Capitol Hill, where Petraeus was regularly treated as a hero, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that the former CIA director has agreed to testify at an upcoming hearing about the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans died, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Feinstein said she has a lot of questions that still must be answered, but that no date had yet been set for Petraeus' testimony.
In the House of Representatives, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is conducting hearings related to the current scandal.
"The most important question is, what security issues are implicated?" said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the panel, "and then there are the questions of whether there should have been earlier notifications of Congress."
Neither the House nor Senate intelligence committees were informed ahead of time about the Petraeus resignation. Schiff said he first learned of the scandal from news accounts.
While acknowledging "legitimate privacy questions," he said that lawmakers want to know more about the notification decisions. Noting the FBI's search of Broadwell's home, he joined Feinstein in underscoring the still-unfolding nature of the investigation.
"With the execution of the search ... my guess is that there is new information," Schiff said.
By Matthew Schofield and Michael Doyle - McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
(c)2012 McClatchy Washington Bureau
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