TAMPA -- Paula Broadwell and twin sisters Natalie Khawam and Jill Kelley had four-star connections and, seemingly, stars in their eyes.
Broadwell became involved in an extramarital affair with former Gen. David Petraeus. Kelley cultivated friendships with senior officers at the Tampa-based U.S. Central Command and purportedly exchanged flirtatious emails with Marine Gen. John Allen. Khawam circled around the Washington elite.
Doors kept opening for the three women, as if they had learned a password or secret knock. On Friday, the White House revealed that Kelley and Khawam had enjoyed two meals at the White House mess with a mid-level Obama administration official.
Now, Petraeus’ behavior has cost him his career as CIA director and possibly a future political candidacy. Allen’s link to the scandal has, for the moment, stalled his planned promotion to be NATO’s top commander. As for the three women connected to the drama, the doors are shutting while the shades are being lifted on their social ambitions.
Their intertwined stories appear to revive some classic plots common in the nation’s capital and any other place where strivers gather around the high and mighty and careers grow.
“I think you can answer the question by reading the Old Testament,” former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, the former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Friday when asked about the revelations that began unfolding with Petraeus’ surprise Nov. 9 resignation. “This has been going on for a long time.”
At the very least, the havoc has shaken the upper reaches of the U.S. military and intelligence communities.
Beyond the personal calamities, FBI agents investigating possible national security breaches are trying to reconstruct how, in their separate ways, Broadwell and Kelley grew close to senior government figures and whether sensitive information was compromised, according to an informed law enforcement official speaking on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing and confidential.
To their friends and supporters, Broadwell, Khawam and Kelley are much more than the two-dimensional characters currently caught in an unforgiving spotlight. Broadwell is a loving mother and a smart, audacious West Point graduate. Kelley, too, is a doting mother and a warm hostess. Khawam, also a mother, is a lively Georgetown University-trained lawyer.
Nor can the three women be entirely lumped together. No one has alleged that Khawam had any inappropriate relationship with a government official; both Allen and Kelley have denied having a sexual relationship.
All three women, however, have shown a knack for productive socializing.
Broadwell, 40, turned an initial meeting with Petraeus at Harvard into an embedded assignment to write his biography. Khawam kept securing invitations to big-time political events. With practiced ease, Kelley and her surgeon husband, Scott, hosted events for U.S. commanders and foreign delegations at their bay-front mansion in Tampa.
“She is very culturally astute and comfortable with that culture,” Gary Springer, president of the International Council of the Tampa Bay Region, said of Kelley. “She has been a very gracious host to a couple of groups. She was welcoming and warm.”
But skeptics have also shadowed the three women, long before Kelley’s complaints about harassing emails triggered the FBI investigation that led to discovery of the affair between Broadwell and Petraeus.