A tricky first day back as Obama takes incoming on Petraeus affair
President's plan to outline his economic policy is eclipsed by military sex scandal
As he attempted to draw battle lines yesterday before negotiations start with Congress on taxes and spending cuts, President Barack Obama inevitably found himself dragged into the maelstrom surrounding last week's resignation of David Petraeus from the CIA and other allegations of misconduct.
In a first press conference since winning a second term, Mr Obama vowed not to abandon a campaign promise to raise taxes on the wealthy. But he was also bombarded by questions about Mr Petraeus' extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, and the ensuing revelations about email exchanges between the US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen, and another woman in the case. Although the Petraeus resignation and its fall-out are for now eclipsing all other business in Washington, the President was at pains to keep his distance from the upheaval.
"My main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on. General Petraeus has had an extraordinary career," Mr Obama said, adding that "so far" he had no evidence that any classified information had been exchanged between the parties.
More politically treacherous, however, was a rising clamour on Capitol Hill for answers from Mr Petraeus – and the President himself – on what exactly it was that led to the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on 11 September and the killing of four Americans including US ambassador, Christopher Stevens.
Mr Petraeus, who reportedly made a secret visit to Libya in the aftermath of the attack, is now expected to make a first appearance behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee as early as today.
The Petraeus debacle and the Benghazi affair are gravely complicating Mr Obama's plans for a cabinet reshuffle. Leading Republicans in the Senate, notably John McCain, vowed earlier to block Mr Obama from promoting Susan Rice, Ambassador to the UN, possibly to the job of Secretary of State, because of statements she made after the attack. These suggested that it was carried out by rioters who ran amok, rather than being perpetrated by militants as is now known to be the case. The President described the criticism of Ms Rice as "outrageous".
Fighting to save his career, General Allen has privately denied to the Pentagon that he ever had an affair with Jill Kelley, a socialite with a long history of entertaining top-ranking military from Central Command at MacDill Air Force base near her home.
Ms Kelley triggered the FBI investigation that led to the downfall of Mr Petraeus after asking the agency to look into threatening anonymous emails she had been receiving.
It turned out they had come from Mr Petraeus's mistress, Ms Broadwell. Ms Broadwell had also been sending emails to General Allen. He forwarded those to Ms Kelley.
Pending the outcome of the Pentagon investigation, Mr Obama has acceded to a request by the Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta, to put on hold a request that General Allen be confirmed as the next commander of US European Command as well as the Nato Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
At issue is the nature of up to 30,000 pages of communications, most of them in the form of emails, exchanged over two years between General Allen and Ms Kelley.
Visiting Aust-ralia, Mr Panetta said he retained confidence in General Allen's ability to lead the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan pending the outcome of the Pentagon investigation.
"No one should leap to any conclusions here. General Allen is doing an excellent job," he said. "He certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and continue the fight."
In a further muddying of the military's reputation, Mr Panetta demoted General William "Kip" Ward, a former head of US Africa Command, for funding a lavish personal lifestyle by filing inflated expenses to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.
He will retire now as a three-star general instead of as a four-star one.
- 1 Scottish independence: Ireland since 1919 is a lesson for Scotland in what a Yes vote means
- 2 Watch a man race the Circle line and win
- 3 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 4 Grandmas keep accidentally tagging themselves as Grandmaster Flash on Facebook
- 5 Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Islamic State: Pope is 'being targeted by Isis', Iraqi ambassador to the Holy See warns
Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton nude pictures exhibition cancelled after artist concedes photos were 'stolen property'
Scotland independence: A nation divided against itself: Brown says SNP are liars. Darling joins in. Salmond fights back
John Travolta addresses former pilot's gay romance allegations publicly for the first time: 'That was the lowest I'd ever felt'
Richard III: Two years after his body was found scientists discover how he died
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Scottish independence: Yes campaign feels the heat as Alex Salmond's NHS claims come under furious attack
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
£23m Birmingham cycle scheme is attacked by Tory councillor for not catering to the elderly
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...
£35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...
£26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...
£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...