Pretty much every loose end to the freewheeling scandal that has rocked the White House, claimed the career of CIA director David Petraeus, and may yet take down General John Allen, the US Commander in Afghanistan, now leads to the vast red brick mansion, a short drive from Florida’s MacDill Air Force Base, that the 37-year-old Jill Kelley calls home.
She has become the key player in a saga which is sending ripples through the military establishment. Her social relationship with several senior army and intelligence figures is now under the spotlight. And what we learn about her public and private lives may have far-reaching implications for America’s national security.
To all outward appearances, Kelley is the wife of a successful Tampa surgeon. She moved to the city roughly a decade ago and has since become one of its most energetic socialites. When she isn’t bringing up her three children, Kelley, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, devotes her life to raising money for charity and brightening up the cocktail circuit. She is also South Korea’s “honorary consul” to Tampa.
Despite the outward appearance of wealth, Ms Kelley and her husband appear to be millions of dollars in debt. Moreover, her relationship with several senior men in uniform is now at the centre of an FBI investigation.
Trouble began in May when Ms Kelley and several of her contacts began receiving emails from someone writing under the pseudonym “Kelleypatrol”. One sent to John Allen warned that she was “trouble”. The messages sent to her were more threatening, and reportedly contained phrases such as, “I know what you did” and “Keep off my man!”
Ms Kelley flagged them with Frederick Humphries, an FBI agent she had met in 2011. He passed them on to the Bureau’s cybercrime unit. Concerned that someone had inside information about the movements of both Mr Petraeus and General Allen, they launched a full investigation.
It was this inquiry which uncovered the fact that the threatening emails came from Paula Broadwell, the biographer of Mr Petraeus, and then revealed that she was his lover. It also turned up some 20-30,000 pages of what the FBI called “potentially inappropriate” email messages that Ms Kelley had exchanged with General Allen.
Reporters have also begun digging into Ms Kelley’s chaotic finances. She and her husband appear to be struggling to pay the mortgage on their house, bought for $1.5m in 2004 when they moved to Tampa from Pennsylvania. The lavish parties they threw seem to have been financed by credit.
Ms Kelley has announced the appointment of a Washington lawyer, Abbe Lowell, and a “crisis management” PR person, Judy Smith. Mr Lowell previously represented disgraced Presidential candidate John Edwards and jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Ms Smith’s most famous former client is Monica Lewinsky. Given the questions that continue to be asked about the mysterious Ms Kelley, they seem likely to have their work cut out.
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