David Petraeus reportedly tried to rein in his mistress after federal agents discovered that she had sent a string of harassing emails to a Florida socialite.
Paula Broadwell, the former CIA director’s biographer and lover, allegedly sent threatening messages to Jill Kelley, a 37-year-old “social liaison” for the US military in Tampa, triggering the FBI investigation which led to Gen Petraeus’s downfall.
When Mrs Kelley, a family friend of the Petraeuses, learned from the FBI that the anonymous messages were coming from Mrs Broadwell she turned to the former general for help. Gen Petraeus then urged Mrs Broadwell to stop, according to the Washington Post.
Mrs Kelley reportedly went to the FBI in early summer after she began receiving the emails. The relationship between the general and his biographer is believed to have ended in July.
On Sunday Mrs Kelley, who insists that the former CIA director is just a close friend who is like a grandfather to her children, was identified as the woman Mrs Broadwell believed was her rival.
Mrs Kelley was silent yesterday after hiring Monica Lewinsky's former crisis manager.
After stating that she and her husband, Scott, a surgeon, "have been friends with Mr Petraeus and his family for over five years", Mrs Kelley requested privacy and briefly fled their $1.2 million mansion after being besieged by media during a birthday party for one of her daughters.
Neighbours and friends yesterday supported the mother-of-three's strenuous denials that she had engaged in anything other than friendship with the 60-year-old retired general. "She would say he was kind of like a grandpa to her girls," said one, who asked not to be named.
Mrs Kelley, whose role as "social liaison" is unpaid, was a frequent guest at Central Command functions. After being presented at one event with a certificate naming her an "honorary ambassador" for allied nations, she began using the title minus the "honorary", according to The Associated Press.
She and her husband hosted Mr Petraeus at a party on their lawn for Tampa's annual Gasparilla parade in 2010. He arrived with a 28-car motorcade. Other guests included Pam Bondi, Florida's Attorney General and a close ally of Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate.
Mrs Kelley is believed to have sparked the inquiry after receiving messages from anonymous email accounts that reportedly warned her to "back off" and to "stay away from my guy".
She has hired Abbe Lowell, a formidable white-collar attorney who defended John Edwards, the former US presidential candidate, against corruption charges that were dropped earlier this year.
Mrs Kelley also recruited Judy Smith, a Washington-based crisis manager and former spokesman for George W. Bush, who represented Ms Lewinsky after her affair with Bill Clinton. Neither Mr Lowell nor Ms Smith returned requests for comment.
Mrs Kelley, who has an identical twin sister, comes from a Lebanese family that moved to Philadelphia in the 1970s. Her parents are believed to have run a restaurant and a vehicle registration company in nearby New Jersey.
Her alleged harasser, Mrs Broadwell, has come under intense scrutiny since Gen. Petraeus submitted his resignation on Friday. The former military officer and fitness fanatic, whose husband is also a senior medic called Scott, has not been seen since news of the scandal broke.
Details of her apparent relationship continued to emerge yesterday, however, with reports that Gen Petraeus took her with him on a government-funded trip to Paris in July last year. The US defence department did not comment.
Mrs Broadwell has reportedly hired Robert Muse, a prominent Washington criminal attorney who dealt with the fallout of the Watergate scandal, to represent her.
No one was at the Broadwell's family home in an upmarket area of Charlotte, North Carolina, on Monday. Later on in the evening, FBI agents were seen searching the home. It was not clear why.
A spokesman for Charlotte Radiology Breast Centre, where Dr Broadwell works as a radiologist, refused to comment on his whereabouts. He "was not seeing patients today," she said.
By Jon Swaine and James Orr Telegraph.co.uk
THE crisis over the resignation of David Petraeus reached Barack Obama's cabinet for the first time as it was claimed that the US attorney-general knew about the affair for months but kept it secret until the day of the presidential election.