President Barack Obama has “faith” in Gen. John R. Allen, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, a White House spokesman said Tuesday, after it was disclosed that the general was under investigation for what the Pentagon called “inappropriate communication” with the woman whose complaint to the FBI set off the scandal involving David H. Petraeus’ extramarital affair.
“The president thinks very highly of Gen. Allen,” the spokesman, Jay Carney, said at a White House news briefing. “He has faith in Gen. Allen,” and believes that he has done “an excellent job” as commander in Afghanistan, Carney added.
Allen’s recent nomination to become the supreme allied commander in Europe, Carney said, is delayed at the request of Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta pending the investigation’s outcome.
Panetta and other officials disclosed overnight the investigation into Allen’s emails with Jill Kelley, the woman in Tampa, Fla., who was seen by Paula Broadwell, Petraeus’ lover, as a rival for his attentions.
Petraeus’ affair led to his resignation as head of the CIA on Friday, and the FBI’s investigations into emails in the matter apparently led in turn to Allen’s correspondence.
In a statement released to reporters on his plane en route to Australia early Tuesday, Panetta said the FBI on Sunday had referred “a matter involving” Allen to the Pentagon.
Panetta turned the matter over to the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct an investigation into what a defense official said were thousands of pages of documents, many of them emails between Allen and Kelley.
A senior law enforcement official in Washington said Tuesday that FBI investigators, looking into Kelley’s complaint about anonymous emails she had received, examined all of her emails as a routine step.
“When you get involved in a cybercase like this, you have to look at everything,” the official said, suggesting that Kelley may not have considered that possibility when she filed the complaint. “The real question is why someone decided to open this can of worms.”
The official would not describe the content of the emails between Allen and Kelley or say specifically why FBI officials had decided to pass them on to the Defense Department.
“Generally, the nature of the emails warranted providing them to DOD,” he said.
Under military law, adultery can be a crime.
The defense official on Panetta’s plane said that Allen, who is also married, told Pentagon officials that he had done nothing wrong. Neither he nor Kelley, who is also married with children, could be reached for comment early Tuesday. Panetta’s statement praised Allen for his leadership in Afghanistan and said, “He is entitled to due process in this matter.”
A senior Defense Department official said Allen had denied having an extramarital affair with Kelley. But the official said the content of some of the emails “was of a flirtatious nature.”
“Some were of an affectionate nature,” the official said, adding that it was unclear whether the flirtatiousness expressed was from Allen to Kelley, from Kelley to Allen, or mutual.
“That is what makes the emails potentially inappropriate,” he said.
The official said that he had not read the emails but had been briefed on the content, and that they did not contain anything inappropriate regarding operations or security.
But there were conflicting assessments of the content of the emails. Associates of Allen said that the emails were of an innocuous nature. Some of the emails, these associates said, used terms of endearment, but not in a flirtatious way.
Pentagon officials cautioned against making too much of the number of documents, since some might be from email chains, or brief messages printed out on a whole page.
The Pentagon inspector general’s investigation opens up what could be a widening scandal into two of the most prominent generals of their generation: Petraeus, who was the top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan before he retired from the military and became director of the CIA, only to resign Friday because of the affair, and Allen, who also served in Iraq and now commands 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Although Allen will remain the commander in Afghanistan, Panetta said that he had asked Obama to delay the general’s nomination to be the commander of U.S. forces in Europe and the supreme allied commander of NATO, two positions he was to move into after what was expected to be easy confirmation by the Senate. Panetta said in his statement that Obama agreed with his request.
Gen. Joseph A. Dunford, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, who was nominated last month by Obama to succeed Allen in Afghanistan, will proceed as planned with his confirmation hearing. In his statement, Panetta urged the Senate to act promptly on his nomination.
The National Security Council spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said in a statement Tuesday that Obama also believes that the Senate should swiftly confirm Dunford.
The defense official said that the emails between Kelley and Allen spanned the years 2010 to 2012. The official could not explain why there were so many pages of emails and did not specify their content. The official said he could not explain how the emails between Kelley and Allen were related to the emails between Petraeus and Broadwell and emails between Broadwell and Kelley.
In what is known so far, Kelley went to the FBI last summer after she was disturbed by harassing emails. The FBI began an investigation and learned that the emails were from Broadwell. In the course of looking into Broadwell’s emails, the FBI discovered emails between Broadwell and Petraeus that indicated they were having an extramarital affair. Broadwell, officials say, saw. Kelley as a rival for her affections with Petraeus.
The defense official said he did not know how Allen and Kelley knew each other. Allen has been in Afghanistan as the top U.S. commander since July 2011, although before that he lived in Tampa as the deputy commander for Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East.