Holly Petraeus was at work in Washington, D.C., posting mortgage advice on her military-families blog. Jill Kelley was home in Tampa, readying a party for one of her three young daughters. For Paula Broadwell it was a big day: In a tight red dress, she was celebrating her 40th birthday with her husband, Scott, and three friends at a special table at Virginia’s Inn at Little Washington. “Everyone was in a good mood, very jovial,” says an observer.
The scene was unremarkable, save for the fact that just hours earlier on that day, Nov. 9, news broke that Gen. David Petraeus, 60, had resigned as the head of the CIA because he had cheated on Holly (his wife of 38 years) with Broadwell (his biographer) and was forced to admit it as a result of an FBI investigation into disturbing e-mails sent by Broadwell to Kelley (a family friend). Having known about the investigation, which began in early June, the women were prepared for the admission. The rest of the country, however, was aghast. And the four-star general was “filled with remorse,” says his former chief of staff Peter Mansoor.
He may not be the only one feeling that way. Just days after President Obama accepted Petraeus’s resignation, it was revealed by the Pentagon that his former deputy, Gen. John Allen, 58, a married Marine Corps general who is currently the top commander in Afghanistan, is under investigation, reportedly for inappropriate communication with Kelley. Some 20,000 to 30,000 e-mails and other files were being reviewed, says a source close to the investigation. This caused the President to halt Allen’s confirmation to head NATO forces in Europe. A Pentagon official says Allen denies any wrongdoing.
“What are they thinking of? What is going on? Guys are fighting and dying, and these generals are acting like characters from Dallas,” says Army veteran Bill Roggio, editor of The Long War Journal.
Petraeus, credited with turning around the war in Iraq, was tapped last year to run the CIA; his name had been mentioned as a possible presidential contender. Not only are those ambitions dashed, but he, along with Broadwell, is now being examined for possible illegal activity: whether the affair was conducted while serving in the field and if there were security breaches-plus, in the case of Broadwell, whether her e-mails to Kelley constitute criminal cyber-stalking. FBI agents made a nighttime search of her Charlotte, N.C., home on Nov. 12, and, while not at home, she is said to be cooperating. “There will be congressional hearings,” a D.C. legal source tells People. Petraeus, already under scrutiny after four U.S. diplomatic personnel were killed in Libya, “will be asked-as a matter of potentially compromised national security-whether there were other women and when.”
Broadwell, who has spent 15 years in the military and, like Petraeus, graduated from West Point, first approached him in 2006 for help with her doctoral dissertation on counterinsurgency. “I thought it strange that he gave her the access he did,” says Mansoor. “A lot of journalists wanted to embed with us. We talked about it and decided it was not good to give him that kind of exposure. Along comes Paula.”
In an arrangement that officials describe as extraordinary, Broadwell was allowed hours of the general’s time over the course of months she spent in Afghanistan, the two of them bonding over their passion for academics and athletics. “He likes to run. She’s a gazelle,” says Mansoor. On reflection, he says, “I didn’t warn him about her. I wish I had. It’s surprising he didn’t have the personal discipline to say no.”
Broadwell, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., with her radiologist husband, Scott, and two sons, then wrote All In, a laudatory 2012 biography, with a Washington Post journalist. With Scott in tow for a Daily Show appearance, she defended her book’s gushing praise of Petraeus, telling Jon Stewart the general has “no dirty secrets.”
Although Broadwell was first embedded in Afghanistan with Petraeus in 2010, sources insist to PEOPLE that the affair didn’t begin until after he left the Army in August 2011. If true, it is unlikely he’ll be prosecuted for adultery under military law. Mansoor suspects the transition to civilian life was difficult for Petraeus, who felt “lonely and vulnerable.” He launched his career at the CIA with a speech urging agents “to conduct our mission in a way that is worthy of the values of our great Republic.” The general tells friends that the affair with Broadwell, said to have ended four months ago, was his only lapse into “extremely poor judgment.” But his wife is “beyond furious,” says Mansoor. “She and David are going to move forward as best they can.”
Before Petraeus broke off from Broadwell, Jill Kelley, 37, who knew the general and his wife through her work as an unpaid liaison at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, mentioned to a local FBI agent that she was receiving stalking e-mails. That agent started an inquiry, which he was later taken off of, partly because he sent personal photos of himself to Kelley; he later flagged the investigation to House majority leader Eric Cantor.
Because the anonymous e-mails displayed knowledge of both Petraeus’s and Kelley’s comings and goings, the messages “raised questions about whether Jill’s or her friends’ e-mail accounts were being hacked,” says a source close to Kelley familiar with the investigation. The FBI traced the notes to Broadwell and, in doing so, stumbled upon sexually explicit messages between her and Petraeus.
Those who know Kelley don’t question her friendship with the Petraeuses. The couples were so close that Kelley hosted a surprise party for Holly, 60. “I can’t see Jill betraying her husband or her kids either,” says a neighbor. “I can’t see her betraying Holly. I imagine she thought she was helping when she reported those e-mails.” Adds the source close to Kelley: “Jill and her family are very saddened General Petraeus has resigned because they think of him as a great American leader.” And yet, she is arming herself: Kelley turned to John Edwards’s defense attorney Abbe Lowell, a longtime friend, and crisis manager Judy Smith, inspiration for the TV series Scandal, for help.
Meanwhile Broadwell and her husband were seen looking somber at the end of their getaway weekend. “Paula’s very loving with her children and Scott,” says neighbor Sarah Curme. “My hope is that they can put their family back together.” As for Petraeus, some believe the scandal should not obliterate his 37 years of military service. Says colleague James Carafano, now a national-security expert at Washington’s Heritage Foundation: “His legacy will be what he accomplished.”