Sen. Graham 'sick' over friend Petraeus' affair and downfall

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 15, 2012 

In this file photo, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks in Beaufort on the threat of defense-spending cuts.

STAFF PHOTO

WASHINGTON -- No member of Congress knows disgraced former CIA chief David Petraeus better or has worked more closely with him than Sen. Lindsey Graham.

The South Carolina Republican and the retired four-star Army general became friends and confidants during Graham's active-duty service as a military lawyer in Iraq and Afghanistan while Petraeus led the war efforts there. Graham is the only member of Congress to have served active duty in both wars.

While Graham was officially a colonel, his status as senator gave him unusual access to Petraeus. They traveled together and the general gave Graham special assignments to help create new police and judicial systems in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The two men became each other's best back-channel contacts for keeping abreast of progress in the wars and the political winds of Washington. They formed a mutual admiration society, with Graham touting Petraeus as a possible presidential candidate and the general bragging on Graham's political smarts and ability to navigate Capitol Hill.

Now Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is dismayed and shocked by news of Petraeus' extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, which compelled him to resign last week as CIA director.

"I feel sick to my stomach," Graham told McClatchy Newspapers during an interview in his Senate office.

Broadwell interviewed Graham three times about Petraeus for her book -- once in Afghanistan, twice in Washington. In those interviews or in his communications with Petraeus, he had no inkling of a romantic relationship between the two.

"I was floored," Graham said of his reaction to the affair.

Graham, who hasn't spoken with Petraeus since news of the affair broke, feels badly for the retired general's wife, Holly Petraeus, with whom he became close over the eight years the senator's relationship with her husband grew.

"I hope from a family point of view that they can get through this," Graham said. "This is a human failing, and it happens in every area of life. As long as you have human beings running the military, running the government, running our institutions, we're going to have human failings."

While Graham still believes that Petraeus "has a lot to offer the country in the future," he's not prepared to let him off the hook for his marital infidelity.

For one, Graham is concerned by possible national security breaches in the intimate exchanges between Petraeus and Broadwell -- and in separate communications between Marine Gen. John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan, and Tampa, Fla., socialite Jill Kelley.

"With the CIA chief, you worry because of the nation's secrets -- that they would be more subject (to exposure) than to the normal person serving in government," he said. "The problem with this case is it seems like there's a national security component emerging now."

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