Though the scandal immediately casts doubts on Petraeus’ attractiveness as an Ivy League president, it also puts him back in the job market as the University’s presidential search committee builds its list of potential candidates.
In a statement Friday, Petraeus explained that he met with President Barack Obama on Thursday — just two days after Obama was elected to a second term — and offered his resignation.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours,” he said in the statement.
Over the weekend, media outlets reported that Petraeus’ partner in the affair is biographer Paula Broadwell, who had written “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” earlier this year. The reports claimed that the FBI uncovered the affair while investigating a case of harassing emails sent by Broadwell to a female friend of Petraeus, identified as Florida resident Jill Kelley. While the FBI probed the harassment, outlets reported, the agency also discovered emails between Petraeus and his biographer that suggested impropriety.
The FBI also investigated whether Broadwell had attempted to access Petraeus’ email and view classified intelligence information, some outlets reported.
Petraeus’ abrupt descent from his position as a national icon complicates his potential path to the Princeton presidency. In September, individuals close to Petraeus told The Daily Princetonian that while Petraeus was seriously interested in the position, the timing of the University’s presidential opening may not have squared with Petraeus’ career path. Before Friday’s resignation, Petraeus had only led the CIA for a little more than a year and was said to enjoy the job thoroughly.
In a statement to the ‘Prince’ responding to his purported interest in the Princeton presidency, Petraeus said he was “living the dream” at the CIA. An alumnus close to Petraeus told the ‘Prince’ in September that had the corner office in Nassau Hall been open a year ago — when Petraeus retired from the military — leading Princeton “would’ve been a slam dunk for him.”
Now, though, Petraeus may be looking for a job at the exact moment that the presidential search committee is beginning to gather names of candidates to succeed retiring University President Shirley Tilghman. This week, the committee will hold four public forums to gather community input, and the committee may meet this weekend to align with a meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees.
Paul Apostolidis ’86, a politics professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. who cowrote a book on sex scandals in public life, said that while politicians can sometimes recover from a scandal within a year’s time, it would be “tough” for Petraeus to emerge cleanly within such a short time frame until a presidential selection is made. However, Apostolidis noted that Petraeus’ sex scandal should not be as damaging to his reputation because it lacks the element of hypocrisy. Apostolidis said he believed that Petraeus would not be disqualified from the search due to the scandal.
But the scandal is complicated because while Petraeus had indeed admitted that he made a mistake, he did not “engage in the narrative of self-reform,” like former New York governor Eliot Spitzer ’81 or former President Bill Clinton did, Apostolidis said.
“[Engaging in a narrative of self-reform] more than anything seems to be related to people’s ability to come back to some sort of public leadership role after one of these scandals occurs,” he explained.
Others said they thought it would take a while for Petraeus to once again emerge as a clean public figure, in academia or elsewhere. Robert Hutchings, a former Wilson School assistant dean who is now the dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, called Petraeus a “victim of hubris” but also said that he could find work as a political consultant or a television commentator — eventually.
“He’s going to have to lay low. He’s sort of damaged goods for a while,” Hutchings said.
While Petraeus may now be an available option to the presidential search committee, Hutchings said Petraeus was less likely to be president now than he was before the weekend.
“I’d be very surprised if Princeton wanted to touch him at this point,” Hutchings said. “He has compromised himself for president as of now,” he noted, adding that a Petraeus presidency was still possible in the future.
It is unclear how the scandal will affect the University’s treatment of Petraeus. In 2010, the University honored him with the James Madison Medal, the highest honor the University bestows on a graduate alumnus. Anne-Marie Slaughter ’80, a Wilson School dean and a former professor, said Petraeus still deserves the medal because of his accomplishments.
University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua said Sunday night that “we are proud of his service to the nation throughout his career,” but declined to answer additional questions.
In prior communication with the ‘Prince’ in September, Broadwell, the biographer reportedly involved with Petraeus, had responded to interview inquiries in a manner that hinted at an undefined relationship between her and Petraeus, who presumably was solely her biography subject. At times, Broadwell acted more as an official representative of the CIA director than an author.
After asking for and receiving advanced questions for an interview with her, Broadwell first acted a spokesman for Petraeus.
“Gen. Petraeus is going to send some thoughts which I’ll pass along to you this afternoon,” she said in an email.
Even once the ‘Prince’ clarified that it sought independent comment from Broadwell herself as an author — rather than asking her to speak for Petraeus as a spokesman, because the ‘Prince’ had already contacted the CIA press office — Broadwell emailed responses that suggested that she had been in touch with him.
“He is not interested in the Princeton job that I know (though I know he knows it is open),” she said in response to one question, referring to the vacant University presidency.
“When he responds to your below email,” Broadwell said, referring to the email sent to the CIA press office, “I’ll share what I can.”
After the ‘Prince’ stressed for a third time that it wished to speak with Broadwell in her capacity as an neutral author rather than as an intermediary between Petraeus and the newspaper, Broadwell phoned the ‘Prince’ and provided an interview. In that conversation, Broadwell said she had recently been in contact with Petraeus about Tilghman’s retirement announcement.
Broadwell described herself in the interview as a “biographer” and an “archivist” but not a spokesman.
Calls to Broadwell’s cell phone went unreturned over the weekend.