Panetta expresses confidence in general linked to scandal
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
and ERIC SCHMITT
The New York Times | November 15,2012
PERTH, Australia — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday that “no one should leap to any conclusions” about Gen. John R. Allen, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan who is under investigation for a series of emails he exchanged with a Tampa, Fla., woman. But he said that as a “prudent measure,” Allen’s nomination to be commander of American forces in Europe had been put on hold until the facts are known.
At a news conference with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at a U.S.-Australian security conference here, Panetta said he thought it was important to refer the matter to the Pentagon’s inspector general. Nonetheless he praised Allen for his leadership in Afghanistan.
“He certainly has my continued confidence,” Panetta said.
Panetta’s remarks were his first since the Pentagon announced Tuesday that Allen was under investigation for what a senior defense official said was “inappropriate communication” with the Tampa woman whose complaint to the FBI set off the scandal involving David H. Petraeus’ extramarital affair. The affair led to Petraeus’ resignation as CIA director last week.
The Tampa woman, Jill Kelley, 37, had gone to the FBI about harassing emails from a person who turned out to be Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’ lover, who saw Kelley as a rival for Petraeus’ affections.
In the last 24 hours, conflicting portrayals of Allen’s emails with Kelley have emerged as the general’s associates said the exchanges were innocent and that the Pentagon overreacted in launching the investigation and putting the general’s nomination on hold.
The FBI discovered the emails between Allen and Kelley in the course of its investigation of Petraeus and Broadwell and turned them over to the Pentagon on Sunday.
Asked to explain at the news conference what “inappropriate communication” meant in this case, Panetta did not. Instead he used carefully chosen words to praise Allen but also to provide a rationale for launching the inquiry.
“As you know, after receiving information from the FBI on Sunday regarding the emails, I felt it was important in my responsibility as secretary of defense to refer the matter on Gen. Allen to the department’s inspector general so that the inspector general could determine the facts here,” Panetta said, as Clinton and the foreign and defense ministers of Australia looked on.
Panetta then quickly added that Allen “certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and to continue the fight.”