WASHINGTON -- Former CIA director David Petraeus expressed regret again in his first official business since he resigned in disgrace over an extramarital affair.
The former four-star general was sneaked into a secure room beneath the Capitol to escape a crowd of photographers and television cameras. After more than four hours, Petraeus departed in a two-vehicle motorcade. About 20 minutes later, The Associated Press photographed Petraeus entering his home.
The scandal over Petraeus's affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has preoccupied Washington, coming at a delicate time in the war in Afghanistan and as the possibility of war looms in Israel. The U.S. government also is facing a market-rattling "fiscal cliff," as legislated tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled for the new year could imperil the economy.
So far, the scandal has ensnared Petraeus; the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen; two Florida socialites; and a decorated FBI counterterrorism agent.
The White House acknowledged Friday that Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite who inadvertently triggered the FBI investigation that uncovered Petraeus' affair, visited the White House three times in the last three months with her sister, Natalie. Kelley and her sister -- both are friends of Petraeus and Allen -- were guests of a mid-level White House aide, according to an administration official.
In his Capitol Hill appearances, Petraeus, who was among America's most respected military leaders, discussed with the House and Senate intelligence committees the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead. He did not discuss his adultery with Broadwell, except to say he regretted his behaviour and his departure was unrelated to the deadly violence in Libya.
The scandal has led to a new CIA internal investigation.
"He was very clear his resignation was tied solely to his personal behaviour," said Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Intelligence Committee. "He was apologetic and regretful but still Gen. Petraeus."
Petraeus was smuggled inside through a network of underground halls. Members of Congress said they made arrangements to spare Petraeus embarrassment.
Before the scandal, he famously cultivated personal relationships with journalists and served as the U.S. war commander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said none of the senators asked Petraeus about the affair.
Petraeus, 60, publicly acknowledged last week that he had cheated on his wife of 38 years with Broadwell, 40.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff are expected to meet next week to discuss the recent stumbles of two of the military's top generals, said Admiral Jonathan Greenert, chief of U.S. Naval Operations. The joint chiefs want to review ethics, accountability and behavioural issues and determine whether senior officials are living up to the military's standards, Greenert said Friday at the National Press Club.
The FBI began investigating last summer. In the investigation, the FBI uncovered flirtatious emails between Allen and Kelley, both of them married. U.S. President Barack Obama has put a promotion nomination for Allen on hold.
Kelley's emails triggered the downfall of Petraeus and placed others under scrutiny. Kelley knew Petraeus and Allen from the Tampa social scene when they were stationed at nearby MacDill Air Force Base.
Broadwell attended two meetings in the White House's executive office building. In 2009, she met with a member of Obama's national security staff and, in June 2011, she joined about 20 people for a briefing on Afghanistan and Pakistan policy, the official said.
Petraeus told CNN this week he had never given classified information to Broadwell. She has said she didn't receive such material from Petraeus.
But the FBI found a substantial number of classified documents on Broadwell's computer and in her home, according to a law-enforcement official.
The CIA on Thursday opened an exploratory investigation into Petraeus' conduct.
-- The Associated Press