Washington’s Homecoming Scandal

Marine Gen. John R. Allen in May 2012. Photograph by Haraz N. Ghanbari/AP Photo

Updated at 2:10 pm EST

Two four-star generals were set to go up to Capitol Hill this week.

One, retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, now former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, was supposed to address the Intelligence committees returning from their election recess about what he’d learned from his own personal investigation of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, that killed an ambassador and four other Americans.

The other, Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, was set to appear at a confirmation hearing for his nomination as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO forces, nominated by the president last month for a post held by the likes of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Now those hearings are off.

Petraeus and Allen are ensnared in a web of e-mails discovered by a FBI investigation of a Tampa woman’s complaint about e-mail harassment. The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating Allen because of e-mails between him and Jill Kelley, according to a Defense official who spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity while traveling with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.   The FBI has handed over 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents, most of them e-mails. Panetta has asked senators to delay action on Allen’s nomination. The general remains commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said today that the president had known of the FBI’s findings about Allen since Friday, though he hadn’t learned about Petraeus’ problem until Wednesday, the day after Election Day.

Kelley is a doctor’s wife in Tampa, home of the U.S. Central Command which Petraeus once ran, and where Allen served as a deputy, who complained about receiving harassing e-mails from Paula Broadwell, the Petraeus biographer identified by several officials as the woman involved in an extramarital affair with Petraeus. The CIA director resigned last week because of that affair, unearthed in the FBI e-mail probe.

Enter the president and commander-in-chief, celebrating a re-election won with a commanding lead in the Electoral College and narrow popular vote victory, returning to confront a Congress somewhat more Democratic yet still divided along party lines by Senate and House.

President Barack Obama, who hasn’t held a formal White House news conference since June 8, plans one tomorrow.

In June, he wanted to talk about the economy and Europe, and he took just three questions.

Tomorrow, Obama wants to talk about the way forward with the economy and the looming challenge of the “fiscal cliff” facing Congress at year’s end. He’s likely to face a lot more than three questions, and they will involve much more than the economy.

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