International Security Assistance Force commander Gen. John R. Allen testifies at a Senate Armed Services Committee in March. Allen's nomination to take over as head of U.S. European Command has been put on hold. (Master Sgt. Kap Kim / Army)
A growing sex scandal that already cost David Petraeus his job as CIA director will delay confirmation for a new U.S. European Command (EUCOM) chief by at least four months.
Marine Gen. John Allen has been tapped by President Barack Obama to take over that command, but the White House has frozen the nomination. Early on Nov. 13, Allen was implicated in an unfolding FBI probe that uncovered an extramarital affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The Pentagon announced in the early morning hours that the FBI had uncovered 20,000 to 30,000 pages of email correspondence between Allen and another woman, Jill Kelley.
Kelley is the woman to whom Petraeus’ paramour several months ago sent threatening emails, apparently worried Kelley was romantically interested in Petraeus.
It is unclear what is the nature of the Allen-Kelley relationship, and just what the emails contained. To find out, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered a Pentagon inspector general probe of Allen’s behavior.
Allen denies any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, at a regular White House press briefing Nov. 13, said Obama was “certainly surprised” by the scandal but retains “great faith” in his commanders.
When asked if the president was upset about being informed of the investigation on Nov. 7, when the investigation had been going on at least since the summer, Carney said the FBI “has protocols” that decide when the White House and members of Congress are informed of investigations.
“I would not suggest that the president is pleased with the events of the last week, but the fact of the matter is that there are processes in place” for these kind of investigations, said Carney.
Similarly, Carney referred questions about whether national security was compromised to the FBI, which is running the investigation into the illicit relationship between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
As to whether the president would prefer Petraeus to testify to Congress about the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi last month, Carney said it is up to Congress to decide who testifies. He added that the administration is confident that CIA Acting Director Michael Morell is “fully informed and capable” of testifying on the issue.
Carney also fielded questions about possible shakeups with Obama’s national security team. While he declined to speculate on personnel matters, Carney did say the president was pleased with the work of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Both have been named as potential Cabinet appointees for secretary of state; Kerry is reportedly also being considered for secretary of defense when Leon Panetta steps down from that role in 2013.
The Allen nomination hearing will be postponed until well after the presidential inauguration, said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.
“Because of the Department of Defense Inspector General’s pending review, the confirmation hearing for Gen. Allen to be commander of U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander has been postponed until a later date,” Levin said in a statement. “That change of command is expected no earlier than March.”
The Senate panel will, however, proceed as planned with a Nov. 15 nomination hearing for Allen’s likely replacement at CENTCOM, Assistant Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford. Allen had been slated to testify about his EUCOM nomination at the same hearing. CENTCOM oversees U.S. military operations in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
“The uncertainties surrounding the schedule of the new Congress in January make it necessary for the confirmation process for Gen. Dunford to be completed before the end of this year,” Levin said.
Adm. James Stavridis is the outgoing EUCOM chief. The Pentagon and White House have yet to announce his next post — or his retirement.