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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Tuesday sought dismissal of a lawsuit by a Tampa, Fla., businesswoman whose complaint to the FBI led to Gen. David Petraeus’ ouster as CIA director.
If a federal judge allows the lawsuit by Jill Kelley to proceed, the case could delve into the roles played in the Petraeus scandal by the FBI, the Pentagon and other parts of the Obama administration.
Kelley wants to find out who in the U.S. government leaked her name and some of her emails to the news media amid the uproar over Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell, author of a biography on Petraeus. The leaks placed Kelley in the middle of an avalanche of unfavorable publicity and as a result, she shouldered the blame as the villain in the downfall of Petraeus and Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, the lawsuit states.
The suit claims the leaks violated the Privacy Act, which was enacted in 1974 after revelations of illegal surveillance by federal agencies in the Watergate scandal. The law seeks to protect individuals from unwarranted invasions of privacy by federal agencies that maintain sensitive information about them.
The Justice Department said in a court filing that Kelley has failed to present any facts suggesting that the FBI and the Pentagon flagrantly disregarded her privacy rights. “A bare allegation” that information was retrieved from government files is insufficient to sustain a claim that the government engaged in an unlawful disclosure about Kelley, the Justice Department said.
The FBI and the Pentagon have exempted several of their record systems from the requirements of the Privacy Act and Kelley and her husband, who also is a plaintiff in the case, fail to say whether the leaked information was in a system of records that was subject to the Privacy Act’s requirements, the court filing states.
The Justice Department does not deny that the government leaked adverse information about the Kelleys, or that the Kelleys were damaged, one of their lawyers, Alan Raul, said Tuesday night. Rather, the Justice Department relies on the supposed fact that the FBI and Defense Department have opted their records out of Privacy Act protections, said Raul.
In an act that triggered the criminal probe resulting in Petraeus’s forced resignation, Kelley told the FBI that she and several U.S. top military officers had been the recipients of anonymous harassing emails.
Kelley and her husband “sought to do the right thing by reporting the facts” to the FBI, the lawsuit alleges. But “rather than protect the Kelleys’ privacy interests as the law and their duty required, defendants instead willfully and maliciously thrust the Kelleys into the maw of public scrutiny concerning one of the most widely reported sex scandals to rock the United States government.”
Some of the anonymous emails ultimately traced to Broadwell were sent to Allen. The messages included notes on the general’s plans to see Kelley in Washington the following week. Allen was concerned about how anyone else would know about his personal plans. One email mentioned Petraeus and an upcoming social event and military and intelligence meeting with NATO leaders in Washington. The emails to the generals claimed Kelley was up to no good and impugned her motives for befriending the military leaders.
The lawsuit says the U.S. government “unforgivably transformed Mrs. Kelley’s reputation from that of a respected business and community leader.”
According to the lawsuit, the FBI Washington cyber division and FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce directed agents in the Tampa Field office to treat the Kelleys’ case differently than normal criminal investigations. For example, the suit says, the FBI did not provide Kelley with security protection to which a victim is entitled because the bureau wanted to avoid attention before the upcoming presidential election.
The lawsuit also says the FBI in Washington directed investigating agents not to proceed with a scheduled effort to interview Broadwell once the agents had determined she was the stalker.
Government officials violated the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches in its review of Kelley’s emails, the suit claims. It alleges they have suffered financial losses because of the government’s actions. They are seeking monetary damages and an apology, among other things.