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Cantor heard of Petraeus affair more than a week before elections

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (left) visited the Virginia National Guard Joint Operations Center as Guard personnel prepared for possible recovery operations from Hurricane Sandy in Sandston, Virginia.

Cotton Puryear/Virginia Guard Public Affairs/Reuters

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (left) visited the Virginia National Guard Joint Operations Center as Guard personnel prepared for possible recovery operations from Hurricane Sandy in Sandston, Virginia.

WASHINGTON (AP) — An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says the Virginia congressman first heard about CIA Director David Petraeus’ extramarital affair on Saturday, Oct. 27, from an FBI source he didn’t know.

Communications director Rory Cooper told The Associated Press Monday that Cantor notified the FBI’s chief of staff of the conversation, but did not tell anyone else because he did not know whether the information from an unknown source was credible. Petraeus resigned last week as the nation’s top spy because of the affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

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The spokesman said the Oct. 27 conversation was arranged by Rep. Dave Reichert, a Washington Republican. Reichert had initially received a tip from an FBI source who was a colleague of the bureau employee who called Cantor.

The day after the late-October call, Cooper said, Cantor conferred with his chief of staff, Steve Stombres, and Richard Cullen, a former attorney general of Virginia who also served as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Cantor decided after those conversations to call the FBI, but couldn’t do so until Wednesday, Oct. 31, because the government was closed due to Superstorm Sandy.

On that Wednesday, Stombres called the FBI chief of staff to relay the information and received a return call from the official the next day. The Cantor aide was told the FBI could not confirm or deny an investigation, but the bureau official assured the leader’s office it was acting to protect national security.

Cooper said Cantor’s office did not notify anyone else because, ‘‘at the time, it was one person making the allegation which, while serious, was completely unsubstantiated. He (Cantor) didn’t know this person. He did the only thing he thought appropriate and that he thought was responsible. Two weeks ago, you don’t want to start spreading something you can’t confirm.’’

Cantor believed that if the information was accurate and national security was affected, the FBI would — as obligated — inform the congressional intelligence committees and others, including Speaker John Boehner.

Congress will now investigate why the FBI didn’t notify lawmakers of its investigation.

But by late October, the FBI had concluded there was no national security breach and was only pursuing a criminal investigation of the harassing emails and whether Petraeus had played any role in them, according to two federal law enforcement officials. They demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing controversy on the record.

In response to criticism from members of Congress that they should have been told about the matter earlier, one of the officials pointed out that long-standing Justice Department policy and practice is not to share information from an ongoing criminal investigation with anyone outside the department, including the White House and Congress.

For a matter to fall in the category of notifying the Hill, national security must be involved. Given the absence of a security breach, it was appropriate not to notify Congress or the White House, this law enforcement official said.

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