David Petraeus' mistress: What we know about Paula Broadwell

It didn't take long for the press to unearth the woman who fell for Petraeus and then inadvertently helped bring down his career

Petraeus and Broadwell photographed together in July 2011: The two reportedly began their affair shortly after Petraeus began heading the CIA in September 2011.
(Image credit: AP Photo/ISAF)

On Nov. 9, CIA Director David Petraeus' sudden resignation, and the extramarital affair cited as the cause of his downfall, shocked just about everyone. The FBI uncovered the affair during a months-long investigation of "threatening and harassing" emails to a woman close to Petraeus, from a sender who turned out to be the retired general's paramour, Paula Broadwell. But most of Washington didn't learn about the relationship until last week. Once the surprise wore off that a celebrated general "known as a brainy ascetic," married for 38 years, would end his storied career in so tawdry a manner, say Scott Shane and Sheryl Gay Stolberg in The New York Times — and that, "in jaundiced Washington," an extramarital affair could destroy such a career — curiosity shifted to Broadwell, the 40-year-old married mother of two who wrote a glowing biography of Petraeus, 60. (Watch her promote her book on The Daily Show below.) Here's what we know so far about the woman whose zealous devotion to Petraeus inadvertently helped end his CIA career:

What's Broadwell's story?

From all accounts, Paula Broadwell is a hardworking overachiever. A top athlete, homecoming queen, and high school valedictorian in her hometown of Bismarck, N.D., Broadwell attended West Point, rose to the level of major after a decade in the Army, then resigned to pursue postgraduate degrees at Harvard and King's College, London. She met her husband, Dr. Scott Broadwell, a radiologist, while both were active military and stationed in Germany. They have two young sons and live in an upscale neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C. The family was away from home, celebrating Paula Broadwell's 40th birthday with friends in Virginia, when the news broke; they have made no statement to the media.

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How did she and Petraeus meet?

Broadwell met then–Lt. Gen. Petraeus when she was earning her master's degree at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and he was giving a speech. She introduced herself at a small dinner gathering following the speech, told him of her interests in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, and he gave her his card and offered to help. Soon after, she decided to write her dissertation on his leadership style, and he agreed to cooperate. In 2010, when Petraeus was named top commander in Afghanistan, Broadwell decided to turn her dissertation into a book, teamed up with newspaper editor Vernon Loeb, and landed a book deal. She traveled to Afghanistan six times to interview Petraeus and his aides, earning what his team viewed as extraordinary access to the general. The book, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus, came out in January.

When did the affair start?

A close friend of the Petraeus family tells The New York Times that Broadwell and Petraeus began their sexual relationship after he retired from the military in 2011, about two months after he started his job at the CIA. Extramarital affairs are a crime under the uniform code military justice, but not at the CIA. The affair reportedly ended about four months ago.

What do we know about her "threatening" emails?

Not much. The target of them was Jill Kelley, 37, an unofficial social liaison to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. — where Kelley lives with her husband, Scott. The base houses the U.S. military's Central Command, which Petraeus once headed, and Special Operations Command. According to various anonymous sources, Broadwell viewed Kelley as a rival for Petraeus' affections or loyalty, and accused her of inappropriate flirting with the CIA chief. A former Petraeus associate tells the The Associated Press that the Kelley and Petraeus families are friends, and that David and Jill were not having an affair.

Why did the FBI get involved?

Kelley contacted a friend who is an FBI agent, and he funneled the inquiry to the local office and federal prosecutors to see if it constituted cyber-stalking. FBI agents traced the harassing messages to Broadwell, and while reading through Broadwell's emails found sexually explicit correspondence from a personal account they traced to Petraeus. After carefully determining that Petraeus' account hadn't been hacked, agents confronted Petraeus and Broadwell. Both admitted to the affair, and convinced the FBI that no secret-leaking or national-security issues were at stake. The Justice Department informed Petraeus' boss, Director of National Security James Clapper, of the affair at about 5 p.m. on Election Night, and Clapper urged Petraeus to step down. He tendered his resignation on Thursday, and President Obama accepted it on Friday.

What happens now?

Petraeus sidestepped a long, drawn-out, well-worn Washington drama by resigning so quickly. The conventional wisdom is that the affair ended presidential aspirations the retired general always said he didn't have, but that his stature in Washington is such that he can enter public life again if he wants to. The battle over Broadwell's reputation, on the other hand, "might as well be taking place on some 15-year-old's Facebook page," says Hannah Rosin at Slate. Her neighbors and supporters paint her as a dedicated mother and misunderstood, prolific advocate for wounded vets; her detractors, many of them in Petraeus' military circle, view her as a fame-hungry harlot who seduced a great man and ruined his career. Rosin continues:

Which one is she, slutty witch or good witch? Which is the real Paula Broadwell? Such are the unsophisticated questions the nation always asks itself about women at the center of sex scandals, just as if we all had never met anyone who has had an affair or read about such a thing in a novel, and did not understand that these situations are often complicated. Is it possible that Paula Broadwell walked her two sons to the bus stop and then went home and wrote threatening emails to another woman who was or wasn't also having some kind of relationship with Petraeus? Possible and in fact probable. Not all mistresses come in cartoonishly mistress-like packages such as, say, Rielle Hunter.

Sources: ABC News, The Associated Press, Business Insider, The Daily Beast, The New York Times (2,3), Slate, The Washington Post (2)

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