Gen. John Allen has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the investigation into whether he sent improper e-mails to Tampa socialite Jill Kelley, paving the way for the Marine four-star to be re-nominated for a promotion to the top military job in Europe, according to American officials.
Allen, the commander of ISAF in Kabul, was swept into the scandal that felled David Petraeus, then the head of CIA, after the FBI stumbled on e-mails between Allen and Kelley during their investigation of Petraeus last fall. Upon hearing of the substance of some of the e-mails, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in November called for the department's inspector general to launch an investigation into Allen.
But it soon became clear that Panetta likely acted in an abundance of caution in the wake of the Petraeus scandal and an independent push for a review of ethics of senior officers. Petraeus resigned from the CIA after the FBI discovered that he had had an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. But some American officials privately indicated the investigation of Allen was different, and they were confident Allen would be exonerated.
Allen had been deputy commander of U.S. Central Command in Tampa before being tapped to head the war in Afghanistan. The e-mail exchanges between him and Kelley spanned a few years. Initially, defense officials had said that there were as many as 30,000 pages of e-mails between the two, but the actual amount of correspondence was later deemed to be a few hundred e-mails, and of those, only several dozen that were suspect.
Still, it took DOD investigators more than two months to determine there was nothing that would disqualify Allen from further service. The length of time it took to investigate what were essentially a few dozen e-mails raised questions as to whether he would be cleared. But investigators took care to avoid the perception that they rushed through an investigation of a senior officer and then mistakenly cleared him.
"The last thing you want is to go through an investigative process that clears someone only to have someone pop back up and say, 'Well, what about this?,'" one U.S. official told E-Ring.
Panetta never read the e-mails, E-Ring was told by another U.S. official, but left it to professional investigators and legal staff to determine if their content was in fact objectionable. Allen's confirmation as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and head of U.S. European Command was considered a mere formality until the White House suspended his nomination in November. Now that he has been cleared, it is expected he will be re-nominated soon, and he is not expected to face substantive opposition in the Senate.
"The Secretary was pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation," Pentagon press secretary George Little said, in a statement. "The Secretary has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan."
Mark Wilson/Getty Images