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Hold fire on Petraeus, Obama warns

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Nick O'Malley

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Obama: No national security harm from Petraeus

US President Barack Obama says he has no evidence that the scandal that ended David Petraeus' career had a negative impact on national security.

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BARACK OBAMA says he has seen no evidence of any breach of national security as a result of the  Petraeus affair.

My main hope right now is that ... this ends up being a single side-note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career. 

During his first post-election press conference, the US President said he was withholding judgment over whether the FBI should have notified the White House sooner that it was investigating a possible breach due to the affair it uncovered between the CIA director, David Petraeus, and his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

Secret affair with biographer ... David Petraeus.

Secret affair with biographer ... David Petraeus. Photo: Reuters

Mr Obama said he had accepted General Petraeus’s resignation because, ‘‘by his own assessment, he did not meet the standards that he felt were necessary as the director of the CIA with respect to this personal matter’’.

But he said the US was a safer place for General Petraeus’s long military career and his short tenure as CIA director.

 ‘‘My main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side-note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career,’’ Mr Obama said.

The FBI agent who helped start the investigation that led to the resignation of General Petraeus was named on Wednesday as Frederick Humphries, 47, described by colleagues as a ‘‘hard-charging’’ veteran counterterrorism investigator.

‘‘Fred is a passionate kind of guy,’’ one former colleague said. ‘‘If he locked his teeth onto something, he’d be a bulldog.’’

Mr Humphries took the initial complaint from Jill Kelley, a Tampa woman active in local military circles and a personal friend, about anonymous emails that accused her of inappropriately flirtatious behaviour  towards General Petraeus.

Suspecting the case involved serious security issues and was being stalled, possibly for political reasons – a suspicion his superiors say was unjustified – he took his concerns to congressional Republicans.

The Petraeus case occupied only a limited part of Mr Obama’s attention during a long and wide-ranging press conference in the White House’s East Room. He saved his most combative words for Republicans who were attacking the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, over her public statements in the days after the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya,  in September that killed four Americans.

It was Ms Rice who informed the media that US intelligence believed anger over an amateur film had provoked the attack.

 ‘‘As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her,’’ Mr Obama said. He said he would not allow the Republican attacks to determine whether he would nominate her as secretary of state, replacing Hillary Clinton.

The Arizona senator John McCain confirmed that General Petraeus would testify to Congress on the Benghazi attacks on Thursday. His resignation had put that appearance in jeopardy, but General Petraeus made clear through committee members he was willing to testify.

Mr Obama was more conciliatory over the ‘‘fiscal cliff’’ negotiations, saying both parties should be able to agree almost immediately to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to those earning $US250,000 ($240,000) or less, while opening negotiations on other methods of bringing the deficit under control.

‘‘I’m open to compromise and I’m open to new ideas, and I’ve been encouraged over the past week to hear Republican after Republican agree on the need for more revenue from the wealthiest Americans as part of our arithmetic if we’re going to be serious about reducing the deficit,’’ he said.

with The New York Times

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