Updated Sunday, November 25, 2012 at 08:34 AM
WASHINGTON — A federal investigation of how David Petraeus' biographer obtained numerous classified records is focusing on whether the retired general's staff gave her sensitive documents at his instruction, according to federal officials.
Petraeus aides and other high-ranking military officials were often asked by Petraeus and other top commanders to provide military records and other documents to Paula Broadwell for her work as Petraeus' biographer, former staff members and other officials said.
Broadwell, a married Army reservist with a "top-secret" security clearance, frequently visited Petraeus in Afghanistan when he was chief of U.S. Central Command and in charge of the war there. She repeatedly sought records that she said Petraeus wanted her to have, according to the former staff members and officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The focus on the role of military staff members adds a new chapter to the complicated ethics scandal that led Petraeus to abruptly resign as CIA director Nov. 9. His affair with Broadwell also put the personal communication of Marine Gen. John Allen, Petraeus' successor as commander of the Afghan war, under scrutiny by the Pentagon.
Petraeus and Broadwell have told FBI investigators that Petraeus did not provide her with classified information, law-enforcement officials said. Attorneys for the two declined to respond to specific questions for this article, as did Broadwell's spokeswoman. FBI officials also declined to comment.
The investigation of the origins of classified material in Broadwell's possession began in the summer as part of a routine FBI inquiry into harassing emails sent to a woman in Tampa, Fla. The messages warned the woman, Jill Kelley, to stay away from Petraeus and were traced to anonymous accounts set up by Broadwell, according to law-enforcement officials.
The investigation uncovered emails between Petraeus and Broadwell that exposed their affair and led to his resignation. The inquiry also turned up questionable emails between Kelley and Allen, who, like Petraeus, had met the Tampa woman while serving at U.S. Central Command, known as Centcom.
The initial investigation focused on whether Broadwell's harassment of Kelley constituted a crime. But the early emails showed that the sender had access to detailed schedules for Petraeus and Allen, which raised concern about possible national-security violations.
Broadwell turned over her computer to the FBI in late summer, and agents discovered that it contained low-level classified material. On Nov. 12, the FBI searched her home in Charlotte, N.C., and carried away additional evidence that she had classified documents, law-enforcement officials said.
The documents have been described as sensitive but relatively benign.
The level of sensitivity of the records Broadwell obtained is unclear. President Obama said last week that he has seen no evidence the release of these records "in any way would have had a negative impact on our national security."
But even low-level classified records typically cannot be kept on a personal computer or at home.