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Petraeus expresses regret for affair and ties resignation from CIA to personal behaviour

WASHINGTON – Former CIA Director David Petraeus expressed regret anew in an appearance that marked 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 clamourous crowd of photographers and television cameras. After more than four hours, Petraeus was seen departing in a two-vehicle motorcade. About 20 minutes later, The Associated Press photographed Petreaus entering his home – one of the only public images of him since he resigned.

The scandal over Petraeus’ affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, has preoccupied Washington, coming at a delicate time in the war in Afghanistan and even as the possibility of war loomed in Israel. The U.S. government also is facing a market-rattling “fiscal cliff,” as a convergence of tax hikes and spending cuts are coming due with the new year and could imperil the economy.

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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 Executive Mansion three times in the last three months with her sister, Natalie, twice eating in its cafeteria. Kelley and her sister – both are friends with Petraeus and Allen – were guests of a mid-level White House aide, according to an Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because those visitor records have not yet been made public. Kelley and her family also received a tour of the mansion.

The White House also acknowledged that Broadwell visited there twice since 2009.

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 that he regretted his behaviour and that 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.”

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Unlike previous appearances at the Capitol, when Petraeus walked through the front door and greeted reporters, he was smuggled inside through a network of underground hallways. Police closed down entire corridors in the Capitol. Members of Congress said they made arrangements to spare Petraeus embarrassment and humiliation. 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. A congressional staffer who attended one of the closed briefings said talk about the sex scandal was off the table.

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 Adm. 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 the case against Broadwell last summer but didn’t notify the White House or Congress until after the election.

In the investigation, the FBI uncovered flirtatious emails between Allen and Kelley, both of them married. President Barack Obama has put a promotion nomination for Allen on hold.

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Kelley’s emails triggered the eventual 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. It was there that the mid-level White House aide who hosted her at the Executive Mansion met her, said the White House official.

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. The 2011 meeting was just a few hours before Obama gave a prime-time speech about withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Petraeus, in his first media interview since he resigned, told CNN this week that 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, and is investigating how she got them. That official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. The Army has now suspended her security clearance.

The CIA on Thursday opened an exploratory investigation into Petraeus’ conduct. The inquiry “doesn’t presuppose any particular outcome,” said CIA spokesman Preston Golson. At the same time, Army officials say that, at this point, there is no appetite for recalling Petraeus to active duty to pursue any adultery charges against him.

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Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Larry Margasak, Adam Goldman, Jim Kuhnhenn, Lolita C. Baldor, Pete Yost, Donna Cassata, Henry C. Jackson and Robert Burns contributed to this report.