The David Petraeus scandal: 3 conspiracy theories

Retired four-star Gen. Petraeus stepped down as CIA director because of an extramarital affair. But is there another reason why he quit when he did?

The timing of Gen. David Petraeus' resignation from the CIA is all too convenient for some conspiracy theorists.
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The sudden resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus on Friday threw Washington into a frenzy of speculation about the extramarital affair that led to his downfall. The timing, in particular, raised questions, as Petraeus dropped his bombshell just three days after President Obama won re-election and shortly before the former four-star general was scheduled to testify before Congress on the handling of the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, including two former Navy SEALs working for the CIA. Another former CIA director called the timing of the revelation "mysterious" — the FBI reportedly uncovered evidence of the alleged affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, in the summer. Is there something fishy about this scandal and the way it was revealed to the public? Here, three of the most popular conspiracy theories:

1. Team Obama kept quiet until after the election

"This is only the latest in a string of ground-shaking events demonstrating that the Obama administration hid information vital to the American people during the last days of the 2012 election cycle," says Ben Shapiro at They knew Attorney General Eric Holder was contemplating leaving but kept mum. They didn't reveal that Iran had fired on one of our drones for a week until after the vote, to avoid shining more light on Obama's failed foreign policy. The White House must have known about the Petraeus scandal, too, but lied to the American people "to achieve its ends." The White House says no one there knew about the Petraeus drama until the day after the election, say Edward-Isaac Dovere and Josh Gerstein at Politico. Still, this could have diverted the campaign's finale away from Obama's handling of Hurricane Sandy, so "who made the decision to wait, and why, is going to be the subject of scrutiny as this scandal continues to unfold."

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2. Petraeus quit so he wouldn't have to testify on Benghazi

The second most popular conspiracy theory created to explain the Petraeus scandal, says Eileen Shim at The New Republic, was that Petraeus fell on his sword "to hide the 'truth' about Ambassador Chris Stevens' death in Benghazi." A good example of the speculation came in conservative commentator Laura Ingraham's Twitter feed, in which she suggested that Petraeus was citing "one scandal, to avoid testifying telling truth abt another" in a feat of "diabolically genius," "spy novel" acrobatics. Well, Petraeus was supposed to testify next week, but he's not anymore, says David Allen at PolicyMic. Still, this one is "a bit of a stretch for very logical reasons. First of all, the Senate can still summon Petraeus to testify even if he is no longer director of the CIA. So think of it more as a 'rescheduling' than a 'cancelation.' There goes the administration's alleged motive to avoid the hearing."

3. This was a political hit on Petraeus

The timing was "just too perfect," retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters tells Fox News. Obama is locked in highly partisan battles in Washington and facing mounting questions about Benghazi, and the administration probably wasn't "happy with Petraeus" because he wasn't "playing ball 100 percent on their party line story." The "tough Chicago guys" in the administration probably knew about the affair all along and simply chose the ideal moment to get rid of him. That explanation flies in the face of several reports that Obama "agonized" about whether to accept Petraeus' resignation when it was tendered last week, says Elspeth Reeve at The Atlantic Wire. But a former Petraeus aide says there's a simpler explanation: "This had nothing to do with Benghazi or relationship with the White House — which by the way was excellent — or anything else for that matter," the aide tells Wired's Danger Room. It was "just his flawed behavior."

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