Updated Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 09:49 AM
WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert Mueller's top aide was told former CIA chief David Petraeus was having an extramarital affair that might have compromised national security a week before the Nov. 6 elections, a congressional official said Monday.
The disclosure raises fresh questions about why the FBI leadership withheld the information from the nation's top intelligence official and the congressional committees that oversee the U.S. intelligence community until after President Obama won re-election.
Had the affair that forced Petraeus' startling resignation on Friday become public earlier, it might have stoked a political outcry already flaring over the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, two CIA contractors and a State Department staffer in a Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, by suspected Islamist extremists.
New details emerged Monday of the affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, whose allegedly threatening emails to another of the former four-star Army general's friends triggered the FBI investigation that uncovered their relationship.
Petraeus, 60, and Broadwell, 40, began their affair about two months after he became CIA director in September 2011, and they had agreed to end it about four months ago, said retired Army Col. Steve Boylan, a former Petraeus aide acting as his unofficial spokesman.
Petraeus was informed of the FBI investigation at, or just before, the beginning of November, and told his wife of 38 years, Holly, just before he sent a statement to the CIA workforce on Friday, admitting to adultery and announcing that he was resigning, said Boylan.
Boylan denied that Petraeus ever passed classified information to Broadwell.
Broadwell, a West Point graduate and Army reservist who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is married with two children.
The FBI investigation that uncovered the affair started during the summer after a woman identified as Jill Kelley, of Tampa, Fla., complained to an FBI agent, who also is a personal friend, about what she considered threatening emails from an anonymous sender.
The emails reportedly accused Kelley, who became friends with Petraeus and his wife while the general served as head of the Tampa-based U.S. Central Command, of improper behavior with Petraeus.
The sender was eventually identified as Broadwell by FBI investigators, who found emails in her inbox that led them to conclude that she was having an affair with Petraeus. A spokesman for the majority leader of the House of Representatives, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., said that an FBI whistle-blower informed the lawmaker by telephone on Oct. 27 of an affair involving Petraeus.
The whistle-blower "warned that national security or classified information may be compromised as a result of an extramarital affair on behalf of David Petraeus," Cantor's spokesman, Rory Cooper, told McClatchy Newspapers.
Cantor and his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, decided the following day to contact Mueller's office. Hurricane Sandy, however, struck that evening, shutting down Washington and forcing them to delay the call until Oct. 31, when Stombres spoke to Mueller's chief of staff, Aaron Zebley, and "gives everything he's got," Cooper said.
FBI spokesmen didn't immediately respond to emailed questions about whether Zebley informed Mueller of Stombres' call, or when Mueller first learned of Petraeus' affair or the investigation that uncovered it.
The Wall Street Journal reported on its website Monday night that a federal agent who had contacted Rep. David Reichert, R-Auburn, because he was concerned that senior FBI officials were going to sweep the matter under the rug, was barred from taking part in the case over the summer due to superiors' concerns that he had become personally involved in the case.
The FBI officials found that he had sent shirtless pictures of himself to Kelley, who approached him because he was a friend, people familiar with the probe told the Journal.
FBI officials declined to identify the agent, who is now under investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the internal-affairs arm of the FBI, according to two officials familiar with the matter.
The agent whom Kelley first told about the emails had become convinced — incorrectly, officials say, that the case had stalled. Because of his "worldview," as one law-enforcement official put it, he suspected a politically motivated cover-up to protect President Obama.
The New York Times on Monday reported that the FBI didn't conclude that Petraeus hadn't committed a crime until after interviewing Broadwell for a second time on Nov. 2. A Charlotte, N.C., television station reported Monday night that FBI agents entered Broadwell's home in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, and nearly a dozen agents were seen carrying boxes and taking photographs inside the home.
Law-enforcement officials insisted Monday that the case was handled "on the merits." The cyber squad at the FBI's Tampa field office opened an investigation, after consulting with federal prosecutors, based on what appeared to be a legitimate complaint about email harassment.
Boylan, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday that the CIA director was "devastated" over the affair and its consequences.
"He deeply regrets and knows how much pain this causes his family," he said.
Boylan said Holly Petraeus, Petraeus' wife of 38 years, "is not exactly pleased right now."
"Furious would be an understatement."
Material from The New York Times is included.
Gen. John Allen