Former CIA Director David Petraeus, in conversations with HLN's Kyra Phillips, said his resignation had nothing to do with his scheduled testimony about the September attack that killed four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Petraeus has been speaking with Phillips since last week. Phillips relayed details of those conversations to Robin Meade via telephone on HLN's Morning Express Thursday.
Robin Meade: Tell me about the nature of your conversations.
Kyra Phillips: I do have some new information. Let me say first Robin... it's been really disappointing and shocking to learn about this. I think even more so shocking because this is somebody of great discipline and great leadership and I never, ever expected, of all the men and women I know in uniform, this is an individual that I never would have expected this to happen [with].
With that said, you know, in our first conversation, he had told me he had engaged in something dishonorable. He sought to do the honorable thing in response and that was to come forward. He was very clear that he screwed up terribly -- it was all his fault -- even that he felt fortunate to have a wife who is far better than he deserves. Obviously he's taking it really hard. He knows he made a big mistake. He does want to move forward making things work with his family. He doesn't want to throw 37 years out the window with his wife.
RM: You know, on the surface it looks like an extramarital affair, but there are concerns about security clearance. Did he talk about Paula Broadwell? Did she have access to information that other people did not, the public did not? Especially regarding Benghazi? I think some people feel she seemingly alluded to some information that she had in a speech recently.
KP: Correct. And I will say, Robin, he has insisted to me that he has never passed classified information to Paula Broadwell. As long as I have known him, he has never wavered on classified information, ever. And to the best of my knowledge, you know, that has always been sacrosanct. I have also never known him to tell me something that is not true, Robin.
RM: Did he say how this may relate to Behghazi? I know he has to testify this week about Benghazi and, you wonder, about the scandal too.
KP: Yes. He has said this has nothing to do with Benghazi and he wants to testify. He will testify. He has maintained to me all along this was a personal failing, Robin, which, as I said, to me was quite stunning and to many other people. He’s not the type of person that I’ve ever known to fail at anything, knowing [him] as long as I have over the years. And so he has made it very clear that this was about an extramarital affair and not over classified information or Benghazi.
RM: Did he say, you know, details like how long this affair has gone on? Are we talking about an extramarital sexual affair? Are we talking about an emotional affair?
KP: Sure. I think it’s fair to say it was emotional, Robin. He’s known her since 2006. The relationship did not begin until after he was out of the military. And, you know, I think there is a couple -- personally, I would like to say I have never known him to be a flirtatious person. I have never known him to be inappropriate. And that is why this was so shocking on many levels. I think it’s important that we need to hear from Paula Broadwell. We still have not heard from her. I do know that people within his inner circle [have] described her to be an aggressive woman, someone who works her magic. Not taking Petraeus off the hook at all, but there are two people, obviously, in this situation. He is taking -- he is saying it’s all his fault. But it’s important to see that there is another person involved. And we hope to hear from her as well, and her side.
RM: Kyra how about him? Has he heard from Paula Broadwell?
KP: They have not talked since this story broke. They talked a couple of times when he ended this relationship which was a couple [of] months ago. But they have not talked since the story broke.
RM: I wonder if he feels -- I don't know if you talked about this -- if he feels it is fair that he resigned a military position over a marital issue?
KP: He never tried to convince James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence he should keep his job. It became very clear to me that he knew he was at fault. He could not maintain that position. And he never tried to convince his boss he should stay, Robin.
RM: So, in the outside world, if people have an extramarital affair, it is considered despicable, but it's not something generally your boss will fire you over. Did he discuss how it's different in the military, how they're held to a different standard?
KP: Well, he's in the CIA. He was the head of the CIA. And you have to -- I mean, you're in charge of classified information of the most secret things in this country and across the world. And you have to be an individual that is upstanding, that has ethics, that is honest in every part of your life. And I think that he knew he could not continue in that position after what he had done.
RM: And I gather, too, there was [concern] of someone [in] that position that an extramarital affair might leave you open to things like blackmail or you don't know who you're dealing with here, what kind of information that they may get. What kind of ties did he say he had to Jill Kelley, the woman who complained about e-mails that were harassing her and ended up being from Paula Broadwell?
KP: Yeah, as far as I know and what he has told me, he and his family were friends with Jill Kelley and her husband. They spent social time together. And Paula Broadwell felt threatened by that. And that is why she pursued Jill Kelley. But that's it. That's as far as we went in that discussion.
RM: You know, there are national affairs to consider here, because this is a former director of the CIA now. But on a personal level, any indication about how his poor wife is doing? Like, is she saying she's going to stay together? How are they handling this?
KP: That's a great question. Holly is a, you know -- a lot of people have described her and when I've seen her or heard her speak... she has a very sweet presence about her, a calm presence about her. Let me tell you, when it comes to fighting for military families, Robin, she is fierce. I mean she's a fierce advocate for military families and has been very involved in financial scams [targeting] military families. So this one -- this woman is strong. She knows what she wants. She's obviously, according to people that know her well, not happy about this -- very, very upset about this. It's disrupted the whole family dynamic. I do not know if she's committed to working this out with Petraeus. I have not talked to her directly. But I do know that Dave Petraeus does not want to throw 37 years away and would really like to make this work and make things right with his family.
RM: How much can you tell us -- just give us background about how these conversations with David Petraeus between you and David Petraeus came about. [In] your work as a journalist here at CNN and HLN, this is someone you cultivate the as a source -- you would go to for military stories, or what?
KP: Yes. I've had a very good professional relationship with General Petraeus since he took over as commander in Iraq. You may remember the exclusive 30-minute live interview I had with him on the anniversary of the Iraq War. Since then, I kept in touch with him. I've done a lot of stories on the Wounded Warriors, something that is close to your heart and the challenges in Afghanistan. I even introduced him as the guest of honor at the TAPS Gala in 2010 -- the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors -- a charity I'm very heavily involved with. We do a lot of counseling for military families, those who lost a love one to suicide, in particular. We work a lot with the kids. So we've always had a great measure of respect for each other. Needless to say, I'm shocked at this behavior. He's the last person I would have ever expected to blow his distinguished career up over an affair. This guy walked on water. It's beyond explanation.
RM: You know, you're the lone journalist here to get access to him and to talk to him. Did it seem to be that there was a message that he was trying to get out, you know, perhaps through your conversations before he goes into these Benghazi hearings?
KP: I don't think so, because we didn't even talk about Benghazi at the beginning. It was more of "Oh, my God, I'm in shock. I am sick about this." You know, "What the hell happened?" And that's how our conversations began. And then as things got more complicated, they got deeper, they got more intense, I started asking him more direct questions. And, you know, he'll answer me when he's comfortable. And if he doesn't want to answer something, he won't lie to me.
RM: You know, it's an amazing -- it must have been amazing -- to hear what he said to your questions. Kyra, really fast, bold points you think are the headlines of your conversation with him? For us, the breaking news is you have had a conversation with David Petraeus, ongoing conversations ever since this scandal broke. Tell me what you think the big bullet points of information were.
KP: That this was not about Benghazi as he gets ready to testify, and he never passed classified information on to Paula Broadwell.
RM: Thank you so much, Kyra. We really appreciate, first of all, you sharing the information, you know, working hard on these uncomfortable conversations. It has to be when you're talking to someone who is a source and that you've, you know, done stories with before and you had to ask the tough questions and we're so appreciative.
KP: Robin, you bet. I guess we all fight our demons, right? No one's perfect.
Morning Express with Robin Meade airs Monday through Friday at 6am ET on HLN. Like the show on Facebook, follow Robin Meade on twitter: @Robin Meade. Follow Kyra Phillips on twitter: @KyraHLN.