A U.S. Official's Anonymously Offered Defense of General Allen

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Allen is innocent of any wrongdoing, says a source who claims Gen. Allen also received "one of these weird, threatening letters" disparaging Jill Kelley, and passed it along to her.

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Reuters

The David Petraeus scandal just keeps getting weirder. Today's batch of stories are all about how the FBI probe that led to his resignation "also turned up evidence that Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, was exchanging potentially inappropriate emails with a Florida woman involved in the scandal," as the Los Angeles Times puts it, sourcing the story to Pentagon officials.

The New York Times describes it this way:

In a statement released to reporters on his plane en route to Australia early Tuesday, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said that the F.B.I. on Sunday had referred "a matter involving" General Allen to the Pentagon.

Mr. Panetta turned the matter over to the Pentagon's inspector general to conduct an investigation into what a defense official said were 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents, many of them e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley, who is married and has children.

The phrase "inappropriate emails" in the LA Times story and the description of Kelley as "married and has children" in the NY Times story make it sound as though a romantic relationship was involved, whereas the 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents allegedly exchanged make it sound like perhaps the problem involved the sharing of classified documents, though neither allegation has been firmly made. The weasel word in the stories -- "potentially inappropriate emails" -- is strange, isn't it?

Can't the folks who've seen them tell one way or another?

I've spoken to a U.S. official familiar with the investigation who wasn't willing to be described with any more specificity than that. The short version of the official's comments: General Allen did nothing wrong.

As best I can tell, the official is honestly conveying what he or she believes to be true, but I have no idea if he or she is correct. I pass along the comments despite my general aversion to anonymous sourcing because, if nothing else, they round out the narrative and provide some potentially significant leads for others reporters to follow as this story advances. 

According to this official:

  •  Although General Allen and his wife are social friends with Jill Kelley, "Allen has never been alone with Jill Kelley." 
  • General Allen received "one of these weird, threatening letters" -- an email from an anonymous account that disparaged Jill Kelley -- and reacted by forwarding the email to Kelley, perhaps tipping her off for the first time to the fact that emails about her were being written.
  • The news items suggesting that Allen and Kelley exchanged 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents are likely inaccurate, and "a couple hundred pages of email correspondence over several years" is more like it, most of it "perfunctory in nature" or responding to her questions about how best to "facilitate her travel to events abroad by invitation of the Afghan government." The source did not say whether Kelley accepted the invitation and went to Afghanistan.
  • The New York Times story states that "a senior Defense Department official said General Allen has denied having an extramarital affair with Ms. Kelley. But the official said the content of some of the e-mails 'was of a flirtatious nature; some were of an affectionate nature,'" adding, "That is what makes the e-mails potentially inappropriate." My source said that the emails do contain affectionate terms of endearment, but that they are innocent, reflect Allen and his wife's friendship with Kelley, and are terms he would typically use in correspondence with others. What interested me about this claim was the bit about his correspondence to other people, which seems like the kind of thing about which others could be interviewed.

So there you have it -- that's at least one of the defenses of General Allen. Whether it is accurate or inaccurate cannot be conclusively proven, at least by me, given the information publicly available. But it seemed like it was worth passing on, given that Allen could be innocent of wrong doing, and also that whatever happens, the claim in point number two is of interest.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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