Gen. David Petraeus was perhaps the most high-profile U.S. military figure since Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf became household names during the first Gulf War. Petraeus' distinguished career unraveled with reports last week that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, co-author of the general's biography that became a best-seller earlier this year.
A key element of the story surfaced yesterday: FBI investigators became involved when a Florida woman alerted them to harassing e-mails Broadwell had sent to her. The complaint, from Jill Kelley of Tampa, led investigators to Broadwell's e-mail account. And that produced evidence of the affair between Petraeus and Broadwell.
It remains unclear why Broadwell was sending nasty e-mails to Kelley, but reports so far indicate that Kelley and her husband had long been friends with Petraeus and his wife. Published reports point to no signs of a second affair, between Petraeus and Kelley.
The Petraeus story is unfolding by the hour, but we already see a couple of take-home lessons from the affair--and they connect to several of our storylines here at Legal Schnauzer. The lessons?
* E-mail is a stunningly powerful tool for getting at the root of misconduct;
* Arrogance often causes American elites to step in doo-doo that easily could have been avoided.
Let's take a closer look at what regular folks can learn from the Petraeus story:
* E-mail can come back to bite you--Is e-mail the greatest crime-fighting tool ever invented? People who make a living from solving white-collar crimes probably would say yes. And we suspect that applies not only to crimes, but also to civil wrongs and other forms of misconduct where perpetrators do not welcome scrutiny.
We already have addressed this issue by showing that e-mail played a critical role in the National Football League's bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints. The very attributes that make e-mail such a splendid communications tool also make it an unmatched weapon for investigators. E-mail is convenient, and it allows for clear, concise communication that invites back and forth. It also leaves a record that is difficult to erase.
How does that last attribute affect wrongdoers and their protectors? I have an answer to that question, based on my own courtroom battles. I've been a plaintiff in two lawsuits--one involving my wrongful termination at an Alabama university, the other involving violations of debt-collection laws--and in both cases, federal judges short-circuited the discovery process, contrary to simple civil procedure.
In the employment case, U.S. District Judge William M. Acker Jr. granted summary judgment to the University of Alabama Board of Trustees and various individual defendants without giving me an opportunity to conduct discovery. There was no scheduling meeting, no discovery order, no discovery itself--all of which is required under case law and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
In the debt-collection case, U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon allowed limited discovery, but defendants dragged their heels on turning over key documents. We notified the court that discovery was far from complete, and that is all we needed to do under Eleventh Circuit precedent to ensure that summary judgment would not be prematurely granted. But Kallon granted summary judgment anyway, essentially allowing unethical debt collectors to skate without turning over evidence against them.
As for Petraeus and Broadwell, our bet is that some of their lovey-dovey e-mails make it into the press within a week or two. Will that be embarrassing? Undoubtedly. Could it point to security breaches or other serious misconduct. I wouldn't be surprised.
* The arrogance of elites knows no boundaries--By all accounts, Paula Broadwell is an uber achiever. The 40-year-old married mother of two is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. From a profile published today:
Broadwell's story until now reads like a profile of perfection.
On Twitter, she describes herself as an author, national security analyst, Army vet, women's rights activist, runner, skier, surfer, wife and "Mom!"
She is married to Scott Broadwell, an interventional radiologist in Charlotte, "who has saved more lives than she has," said her website, www.paulabroadwell.com, which has been taken down. They have two young sons.
We obviously are talking about a bright woman here. So how could she behave in such a stupid, reckless fashion? How did she go badly off the tracks?
Broadwell's first mistake, of course, was engaging in an affair with one of the most powerful, high-profile men on the planet. Men and women have been making such mistakes for eons--and the ability of sex, power, fame, and money to cloud judgment is not likely to decline any time soon. So we will more or less give Broadwell a pass on that, especially since the affair might have been more Petraeus' idea than hers. Given that he's 60 and she's 40 (and extremely easy on the eyes), it seems safe to say the general was more than happy to give new meaning to the term "embedded reporter."
But where did Broadwell get the idea of sending nasty e-mails to Jill Kelley? Has Broadwell ever heard of the term "discrete"? Is she aware that e-mails have a way of being traced and passed around? She's supposed to be a security expert?
Broadwell is not the first individual of fine pedigree to behave in inexplicable ways. Let's consider a a few leading characters from our Legal Schnauzer reporting:
* What were Ted Rollins, Rob Riley, and Bill Swatek thinking? -- Rollins grew up in one of the nation's wealthiest families, the folks behind Orkin Pest Control, and he has a master's in business administration degree from Duke University, one of our finest citadels of higher learning.
Rollins also has a lot of ugly stuff in his background. He was convicted for assaulting his stepson in Franklin County, North Carolina. He was investigated for possible child sexual abuse, based on a citizen complaint, involving the same stepson. He also has engaged in questionable business practices and allegedly had several extramarital affairs. So when wife No. 2, Sherry Carroll Rollins, sued him in South Carolina where the family lived and jurisdiction was proper, you might think that Ted Rollins would decide to quietly settle the matter--he and his family easily could have made a satisfactory financial offer--adding a confidentiality clause to make sure certain subjects stayed under wraps.
But Ted Rollins didn't want to do that. He wanted to make his wife pay for divorcing him, so he unlawfully got the case shifted to Alabama, where a corrupt judge named D. Al Crowson administered a monumental cheat job to Sherry Rollins and her two daughters. During the proceedings, both Ted Rollins and his billionaire cousin, R. Randall Rollins of Atlanta, almost certainly committed perjury. But criminal activity apparently was worth it in order to get the upper hand on Sherry Rollins in court.
Ted Rollins probably did not count on his ex wife finding an intrepid legal journalist, with a well-read blog, who would research the matter and transmit much of the ugliness about child abuse, perjury, and more to all corners of the blogosphere.
As for Rob Riley, he also is a product of an elite university. The son of former Alabama Governor Bob Riley, Rob Riley earned a law degree at Yale. Did that give him insight on to how to treat his fellow citizens, how to avoid major ethical pitfalls that can come back to bite?
|Jill Kelley (right), with her husband,|
Scott, and Holly Petraeus
Perhaps most importantly, we are in the process of reporting a story that will pull the mask off the Riley political machine--not to mention the Alabama Republican Party's phony stance on "family values." Rob Riley is right in the middle of it.
As for Bill Swatek, regular readers will recognize him as a lawyer and one of the prime villains in our Legal Schnauzer reporting. Swatek has a record of violating bar ethics rules for 30-plus years, but he has continued to practice and made enough money to send his kids to more-or-less elite universities. Given that he's had his law license suspended once for acts of "dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation," you might think Swatek would avoid any impropriety that could threaten his livelihood. But you would be wrong. And we have powerful evidence--in the form of e-mails--that Bill Swatek has engaged in serious hanky and panky. Not surprisingly, Swatek and his consultant son, Dax Swatek, are closely aligned with Rob Riley and the Alabama Republican Party.
If you enjoy stories about GOP hypocrisy, you will want to stay tuned for our reporting on Rob Riley and Bill Swatek.
Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that David Petraeus was appointed to head the U.S. surge in Iraq and to direct the U.S. Central Command, both under former Republican President George W. Bush. The image of rectitude that Petraeus has spent decades building now is collapsing right before our eyes.
He's not alone in falling victim to the arrogance of power.