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Emails shed light on CIA scandal figure

Socialite Jill Kelley emailed Tampa's mayor about meetings with military brass and foreign dignitaries and her lunch at the White House. And she went to bat against disc jockey Bubba the Love Sponge.

November 16, 2012|By Shashank Bengali, Los Angeles Times
  • Jill Kelley leaves her home in Tampa, Fla. Kelley's complaint about harassing emails from Gen. David Petraeus' paramour, Paula Broadwell, began the CIA scandal.
Jill Kelley leaves her home in Tampa, Fla. Kelley's complaint about… (Chris O'Meara, Associated…)

TAMPA, Fla. — When Tampa radio personality Bubba the Love Sponge said he would "deep-fat fry a Koran" in response to deadly protests against U.S. troops for the accidental burning of the Muslim holy book in Afghanistan, Jill Kelley was on it.

"I just got off the phone with Gen. Allen and Adm. Harward," the Tampa socialite emailed the mayor of Tampa in March, referring to Gen. John R. Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Vice Adm. Robert S. Harward, deputy commander of U.S. Central Command. Kelley wrote that Allen and David H. Petraeus, then-CIA director, were emailing her "about getting this dealt with."

Kelley now is at the center of the scandal that forced Petraeus to resign and has threatened Allen's career. Her eagerness to help resolve the Bubba the Love Sponge problem was another reflection of how close she had grown to top U.S. military officials at MacDill Air Force Base, and how she has used those connections to gain special privileges.

The case has veered from tragedy to farce, but it grew downright bizarre Friday when the White House acknowledged that Kelley had used her connections to arrange three visits to the White House complex in the last six weeks. The most recent was a tour for her family on Nov. 4, five days before Petraeus resigned as CIA director after admitting to an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The affair came to light after Kelley told an FBI agent about harassing emails she'd received from Broadwell, who apparently viewed Kelley as a rival for Petraeus' affections.

Kelley and her twin sister, Natalie Khawam, also ate breakfast in the White House mess on Sept. 28, and ate lunch there on Oct. 24. Both times they ate with a lawyer who works in the White House, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The White House confirmed the three visits, but declined to name the lawyer, identifying him only as "a White House staffer who met the Kelley family while visiting MacDill Air Force Base."

In a Nov. 8 email to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, part of 70 pages of emails from the last 18 months between Kelley and the mayor's office that the city released Thursday, Kelley bragged about her access to the White House. "I was at the WH with my friends in the administration this weekend — the stress was surreal! But glad POTUS has been re-elected!," she wrote, using the acronym for president of the United States.

Public records show Kelley is a registered Republican.

No evidence indicates Kelley was anything more than friends with the commanders she courted, but the emails raise new questions about why Petraeus and other senior officials came to trust her. The emails portray Kelley as a name-dropper and social striver. She emailed about dining with Petraeus and Allen in Washington, attending a crab night with Harward at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club and hobnobbing with visiting dignitaries like the king of Jordan.

Last fall, she had dinner at the home of Marine Gen. James Mattis, the current head of Central Command. Mattis' office declined to comment Friday.

The emails show Kelley accumulated titles, but she wasn't always effective in her positions.

When her term on the board of directors of the University of Tampa's Henry B. Plant Museum was up earlier this year, for example, Cynthia Gandee, the museum's executive director, suggested to Buckhorn that Kelley not be reappointed.

"She was a wild card appointment from the [previous] mayor and has not been active or effective," Gandee wrote. Buckhorn renewed Kelley's three-year term anyway.

The emails add to more than 20,000 pages of communications between Kelley and Allen that the Pentagon is investigating for supposed "inappropriate communication." Allen's aides have said the emails were innocent, but the inquiry has held up his nomination to be NATO's supreme allied commander.

Kelley's emails to Buckhorn are often blithe, peppered with "LOLs," emoticons and breezy shorthand. They reflect a relationship that began weeks after Buckhorn took office in April 2011, when Kelley hosted a reception for him at her white-columned mansion on Tampa's exclusive Bayshore Boulevard.

Last November, Kelley wrote Buckhorn that she and her husband, Scott, a cancer surgeon, celebrated Petraeus' 59th birthday with his family in the Washington area. Two months later, she was back in Washington, emailing Buckhorn on Jan. 13 that she was "up in DC having dinner tonight with Gen Petraeus and Gen John Allen."

On Wednesday, days after her link to the Petraeus scandal was made public, Kelley emailed Buckhorn for help, saying her name was being "exploited by the media." She complained that she had received threats after Tampa police released recordings of 911 calls she and her husband made about reporters trespassing on their property. Under Florida law, the recordings and the emails are public record.

"I cannot understand why your dept would release my address and cell number, and make me and my daughters in harms way," Kelley wrote. She was keeping her daughters home from school and her husband was sleeping at the hospital, she said.

"I'm scared and cannot believe what my city — in which I have contributed so much of my love, time money and leadership — has now done to me and my innocent family."

Times staff writer David S. Cloud in Washington contributed to this report.

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