TAMPA: General David Petraeus admits he "screwed up terribly" by having an affair with his biographer, as he prepares to emerge from hiding to be questioned by US congressmen on Friday.
The former CIA director said he regretted the liaison with Paula Broadwell that has thrown America's national security establishment into crisis, but insisted he did not pass her classified intelligence.
Describing his wife, Holly, as "far better" than he deserved, Mr Petraeus said in an off-camera conversation with a television journalist that he was guilty of a "personal failing" and had "engaged in something dishonourable".
"He sought to do the honourable thing in response," said Kyra Phillips, a reporter for HLN, "and that was to come forward. He was very clear that he screwed up terribly."
General Petraeus, who has not been seen in public since his resignation a week ago, is due to testify on Friday morning to congressmen investigating the September 11 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The retired four-star general rejected conspiracy theories that his downfall had been engineered to prevent him disclosing information on the attack that could be damaging to the President, Barack Obama.
"He said this has nothing to do with Benghazi, and he wants to testify," Phillips said. "He will testify."
The hearing, by the House intelligence committee, will be closed to the public. Senior Republicans, including Senator John McCain, have accused the Obama administration of failing to provide adequate consular security despite requests from Chris Stevens, the ambassador who was killed in the attack.
They also allege that the White House deliberately misled the public by stating initially that the attack had spilled over from a chaotic protest against an anti-Islamic American film, when in fact it appears to have been a co-ordinated terrorist strike by jihadists.
Fears that General Petraeus had briefed Ms Broadwell on secret details of the Benghazi assault were spawned by the emergence of footage of a speech in which she said the attackers had been attempting to spring Libyan radicals from a makeshift CIA jail. Authorities said this was not true and that she had misinterpreted media reports.
In his conversation with Phillips, General Petraeus reiterated assurances given by Mr Obama earlier this week "that he has never passed classified information to Paula Broadwell".
The FBI, which searched Ms Broadwell's home in North Carolina for several hours this week, is understood to have found classified material from as-yet unknown sources on her laptop. General Petraeus, 60, resigned last Friday after confessing to an affair with Ms Broadwell, the married 40-year-old author of his biography and former military officer, which was being investigated by agents from the FBI.
He sought to do the honourable thing in response and that was to come forward. He was very clear that he screwed up terribly.
The inquiry was prompted by Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old "social liaison" for the US military in Florida, who received anonymous emails warning her to stay away from General Petraeus. She says General Petraeus was simply a friend.
Ms Kelley's complaint to the FBI led agents to email accounts owned by Ms Broadwell, and to the discovery that she was engaged in a relationship with General Petraeus. They also discovered multiple affectionate emails exchanged by Ms Kelley and General John Allen, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan.
General Petraeus told Phillips that since news of their relationship emerged, he had not spoken to Ms Broadwell, who is staying in Washington and has had her military security clearance revoked.
An aide said General Petraeus had not been following media coverage of the saga. "He wants to maintain a distance and focus on his family at this time," said Colonel Peter Mansoor.
The soap opera at the top of the US military prompted the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, to order a review of the training in ethics given to senior officers.
Ordering the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Martin Dempsey, to assess the adequacy of current ethical training, Mr Panetta said recent evidence of misconduct by senior officials had "the potential to erode public confidence in our leadership".
He has frozen General Allen's nomination to become Nato commander, pending the completion of a full investigation into his contacts with Ms Kelley.
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