The investigation into the sex scandal that forced the resignation of CIA chief David Petraeus widened Tuesday to include General John Allen, commander of NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The investigation hinges on "inappropriate communication" between Allen and Jill Kelley, a Petraeus family friend whose complaint of email harassment initiated the FBI probe that exposed Petraeus' affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, according to US media reports.
The communication consists of more than 20,000 pages of emails between Kelley and Allen dating back to 2010, according to the Washington Post. The emails have not been released.
Broadcaster CNN quoted an unnamed senior government official late Tuesday as saying "there is no affair" between Allen and Kelley, calling her "a bored rich socialite."
In a statement, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the FBI had already referred Allen's case to the inspector general at the Department of Defense.
Allen will remain as commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan for the time being, but Panetta urged the Senate to "act promptly" on the confirmation of General Joseph Dunford, who had already been nominated as his successor in Afghanistan.
Allen, a career officer in the US Marines, was nominated last month by President Barack Obama for the posts of Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and head of US forces in Europe. The nomination has since been put on hold, and Senate confirmation hearings have been postponed.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that Obama "thinks very highly of General Allen and his service to his country, as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan. ... He has faith in General Allen, believes he's doing and has done an excellent job at ISAF."
Carney said he was not aware of the president having spoken to Allen since Friday, when White House lawyers were notified by the Justice Department of potential problems with Allen's nomination, and informed Obama. Petraeus announced his resignation the same day.
The investigation of Broadwell uncovered evidence of her affair with CIA chief Petraeus, who resigned Friday. The FBI has been investigating whether their relationship posed a security risk.
Marital infidelity is especially sensitive in security posts and can be career-ending for CIA officers, as well as for US military officers, whose conduct code forbids adultery.
In Brussels, NATO referred questions over Allen's appointment to US authorities. The post has traditionally been Washington's prerogative.
Last month, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen had welcomed his nomination and praised the "outstanding job" Allen was doing in Afghanistan. "I have been impressed by his leadership, determination, and commitment," Rasmussen had said.
Kelley, 37, was first linked to the case Sunday, as it emerged that she had brought anonymous threatening emails in May to the FBI, which launched an inquiry and found that the messages had come from Broadwell.
Kelley issued a statement Sunday in which she said her family has been friends with Petraeus and his wife for more than five years. Kelley lives in Tampa, Florida, where she is active in causes that support the US military.
Broadwell's home was searched by the FBI late Monday, according to media reports.
Several agents with empty boxes entered the house of Petraeus' ex-lover in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to the Charlotte Observer newspaper.
Local FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch confirmed the agents' presence at the house but did not say what they were doing. Television footage showed agents removing computer equipment.
Pressed by reporters, Carney said the investigation of Allen and the admission by Petraeus, a retired general, should not lead people to "extrapolate broadly" about the military culture. "The president has great confidence in the military, great confidence in his commanders, and will continue to have that confidence," Carney said.
Carney referred questions about the investigations to the justice and defence departments and, a week after Obama's re-election, repeatedly declined to discuss appointments to the president's national security team in the president's second term.
"I would totally not suggest that the president - given that he was surprised - that he is pleased with the events of this past week, the past several days," Carney said. "But the fact of the matter is, you know, there are processes in place to handle these kinds of things. They are playing out appropriately."
The Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday said it wanted to hear from Petraeus this week when it opens an inquiry into the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the US ambassador and three other Americans.
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