WASHINGTON — Responding warily to his administration’s sudden sex scandal, President Obama said Wednesday that he has seen no evidence that national security was damaged by the revelations that ended his CIA director’s career and imperil that of his Afghan war commander.
But the president said he is reserving judgment about how the FBI has handled the investigation that began in the summer but did not reach his desk until after last week’s election.
‘‘I have a lot of confidence, generally, in the FBI,’’ Obama said, qualifying his words of support for the agency and its actions in the case.
As Obama spoke about the scandal from the White House, legislators on Capitol Hill were grilling FBI and CIA officials privately about the same issues: whether national security was jeopardized by the case and why they did not know about the investigation sooner.
Federal law enforcement officials have said the FBI did not inform the White House and Congress sooner about the original investigation because of rules set up after the Watergate scandal to prevent interference in criminal inquiries, and that lawmakers were not given notice of potential national security problems because the bureau had quickly resolved them.
Director David Petraeus resigned from the CIA on Friday, two days after the White House was notified that he had acknowledged having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
The FBI’s investigation of the matter began last summer, after Broadwell allegedly sent harassing, anonymous e-mails to a woman she apparently saw as a rival for Petraeus’s affections. That woman, a Florida socialite named Jill Kelley, in turn had traded sometimes-flirtatious messages with the top US commander in Afghanistan, General John Allen.
Kelley’s complaints about the threatening e-mails triggered the FBI investigation that led to the resignation of Petraeus.
A lawyer for Allen released a statement Wednesday promising the general would cooperate fully with the Defense Department inspector general’s investigation. Allen has denied any wrongdoing.
New details about the early chronology of the case emerged. The first anonymous e-mail, which the FBI ultimately traced to Broadwell, was sent in May to Allen, not Kelley. It warned Allen about his upcoming meeting with Kelley and suggested she would harm his reputation, a person close to Kelley told the Associated Press on Wednesday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the FBI investigation was continuing.
Starting about two weeks later, Kelley herself received the first of as many as five e-mails sent from different anonymous accounts alleging that she was up to no good, the person said. One of those mentioned Petraeus by name. By early July, Kelley contacted an FBI agent in Tampa she had met years earlier, which began the agency’s investigation of the matter.
The New York Times identified the agent as Frederick W. Humphries II, 47.
Officials who have seen the communications between Allen and Kelley on Wednesday described some of the e-mails as ‘‘suggestive,’’ and said their release would be embarrassing for the general. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
With Broadwell and Kelley suddenly in the center of the storm, small details suddenly became topics for discussion.
On Wednesday, Kelley’s pass to enter MacDill Air Force Base in Florida had been indefinitely suspended, a decision made at the base level. A Pentagon spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Warren, said Kelley still can enter the base but must report to the visitor center and sign in like others without a pass.
Separately, a US official said the Army has suspended Broadwell’s security clearance. As a former Army intelligence officer, she held a high security clearance. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the source was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Broadwell admitted to the FBI that she had taken classified documents out of secure government buildings, and there were substantial amounts of classified documents on her computer, according a federal law enforcement official, who also was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity.
The FBI also found classified documents in the search of Broadwell’s house earlier this week, the official said. Broadwell had agreed to the search and had told agents in advance that there would be some there.