You may wonder why the Egg has had nothing to say about the Petraeus Affair thus far. The reason is simple: things change too fast for us to keep up. First it's an ex-general shtupping his biographer; then it's a biographer threatening a socialite; then it's another general exchanging tens of thousands of emails with the same socialite -- some of them now said to be "flirtatious."
And somewhere in the mix, it appears, there is a shirtless FBI agent.
By the time you read this, we fully expect that the story will have broadened to include bootleggers, circus clowns, and the ghost of Elvis. Ann Friedman believes that the whole business can be understood by watching the movie Mean Girls.
But the main thing to remember is that, whatever anybody says on CNN, it is very likely that several laws have been broken here:
Military Law. First off, the liaison between David Petraeus and Paula Broadwell may, in and of itself, be criminal. Adultery is a punishable offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 134. A particular case may be punished when it is "to the prejudice of good order and discipline" and/or is "of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces." Both parties were (or anyway, may have been, depending on when the affair began) serving officers, a general and a lieutenant colonel in the reserves; he was in in as public a position as a general can have, and she was a writer and lecturer. Not to mention the differences in rank and seniority. This story stands to prejudice as much good order and reflect as much discredit as we can imagine.
Obviously, Gen. John Allen is also subject to the UCMJ. If it does prove that he was sleeping with Jill Kelly, he is likely to face charges under Article 134 as well. Broadwell will probably be allowed to resign rather than face charges, but Allen is a much bigger fish, with a lot more to lose. The Army may be inclined to treat him very severely.
That's just the question of adultery. The far more serious question, for both Petraeus and Allen, will be whether either man may have leaked classified documents to a paramour. It's going to be hard to work out the details -- if Broadwell's research notes include classified documents, for example, she might have received them from any number of sources. And not all documents marked "classified" are actually classified. Still, if a prosecutor is determined, this is where the possibility of actual jail time comes in.
Civilian Law. If the affair had begun before Petraeus took over the CIA, and if he failed to disclose it during the vetting process, he is probably guilty of a crime right there. In August, the FBI issued a press release about a guy who worked at the Denver airport, and had failed to disclose a criminal record, thus potentially jeopardizing airport security. "If convicted of making a false statement," it said, this fellow "faces not more than five years in federal prison and a fine of not more than $250,000." If they bring that kind of heat down on a baggage-handler, they probably have a lot more to offer a CIA director.
What if the affair began only after Petraeus took over the CIA? It may not be technically illegal, but it is still a massive violation of the CIA's code of conduct. James Bond notwithstanding, the intelligence services are notoriously averse to sexual escapades which might open their personnel up to extortion or coercion.
Moral Law. Let's be frank. Even if Petraeus and Broadwell did betray the confidence of the Army and the CIA -- and thereby the United States -- it seems very unlikely that they did any lasting damage. They weren't passing secret plans to Chinese operatives or anything like that.
But both Petraeus and Broadwell (and perhaps Allen and Kelly, depending upon what we learn next) have betrayed their families in ways that are likely to do vast damage. Under the best circumstances, an affair is destructive; when it creates a massive public scandal like this one, the destruction can only be amplified. To be really blunt, that's why it is in the Ten Commandments.
All said and done, we don't really think there will be a lot of legal action here. So long as national security was not compromised, all the principals will probably be run through the customary wringer of public humiliation, and then sent on their merry ways. Petraeus will make a fortune giving speeches and serving on corporate boards. Broadwell will work at a conservative think tank, and may even get to be a talking head on cable news. If Allen is in real trouble, he will retire very soon; if not, he will serve a few more years, in important positions -- but never on the Joint Chiefs or anything like that. As for Kelly, well, she will emerge from bankruptcy and co-host a reality TV program..