Commentary Magazine


Report: Petraeus Clashed With Agency Heads in Final Days

This morning’s Wall Street Journal sheds light on why the FBI’s discovery of David Petraeus’s affair may have been enough to lead to his downfall

In David Petraeus’s final days at the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency, his relations with chiefs of other U.S. agencies, including his boss, National Intelligence Director James Clapper, took a contentious turn. …

Mr. Petraeus wanted his aides to push back hard and release their own timeline of the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi and a nearby CIA safe house, seeking to set the record straight and paint the CIA’s role in a more favorable light. Mr. Clapper and agencies including the Pentagon objected, but Mr. Petraeus told his aides to proceed, said the senior officials.

By all accounts, the driving force behind Mr. Petraeus’s departure last Friday was the revelation about his extramarital affair with his biographer. But new details about Mr. Petraeus’s last days at the CIA show the extent to which the Benghazi attacks created a climate of interagency finger-pointing. That undercut the retired four-star general’s backing within the Obama administration as he struggled with the decision to resign. 

This makes a lot more sense. The internal discovery of Petraeus’s affair by the FBI could have been handled two ways: quietly or not quietly. The administration may have decided to go the second route–asking Petraeus to submit his resignation–because of the extent to which he was clashing with officials like Clapper and Panetta in his final month.

It also explains why this very favorable profile of Petraeus, which his office clearly cooperated with, turned up in the New York Times just a week before his resignation. The article quoted friends of Petraeus defending him from criticism over his Benghazi response, praising his management style, and playing up his supposedly warm relationship with President Obama. Petraeus, being the smart media operator that he is, may have been trying to rehabilitate his name through the press. But it wasn’t enough to save his job one week later.