WASHINGTON — Top national security officials trudged to Capitol Hill Thursday to grapple with fallout from the David Petraeus sex scandal as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked service chiefs to review ethics training for military officers. He said he was unaware of any other top brass who could turn out to be ensnared in the debacle.
One person missing from the tableau: General John Allen, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan whose nomination to take over in Europe is on hold because of suggestive e-mails turned up in the investigation.
Legislators went forward with a hearing on the nomination of General Joseph Dunford to replace Allen in Afghanistan. But with Allen’s own future uncertain, they put off consideration of his promotion to US European Command chief and NATO supreme allied commander. Allen had initially been scheduled to testify.
Panetta, speaking at a press conference in Bangkok, gave new words of support to Allen, voicing ‘‘tremendous confidence’’ in the general.
Citing a string of ethical lapses by senior military officers, however, Panetta asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to review ethics training and look for ways to help officers stay out of trouble.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, opened Dunford’s hearing with kind words for Allen, saying: ‘‘I continue to believe that General Allen is one of our best military leaders. And I continue to have confidence in his ability to lead the war in Afghanistan.’’
Top Obama administration officials, meanwhile, met privately with lawmakers for a third straight day to explain how the Petraeus investigation was handled and explore its national security implications. Among those appearing before the House Intelligence Committee: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell.
Representative Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, said after the hearing he was satisfied that the FBI had behaved properly in not notifying the White House or lawmakers about the inquiry sooner, in keeping with post-Watergate rules set up to prevent interference in criminal investigations.
But committee member Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, said lawmakers would continue to ask questions because ‘‘there’s a lot of information we need . . . with respect to the facts about the allegations against General Petraeus.’’
Petraeus, the much-honored retired general, resigned his CIA post Friday after acknowledging an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The FBI began investigating the matter last summer but didn’t notify the White House of Congress until after the election.
On Thursday, the CIA opened an exploratory investigation into Petraeus’s 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.
In the course of investigating the Petraeus situation, the FBI uncovered suggestive e-mails between Allen and Florida socialite Jill Kelley, both of them married. President Obama then put Allen’s promotion nomination on hold.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he expects Allen to eventually take over the European Command, but he acknowledged, ‘‘I see this investigation and how long it could take affecting that.’’
Dempsey said he absolutely had confidence in Allen’s ability to continue in command in Afghanistan despite the distraction of the scandal. He spoke in an interview with American Forces Press Service.
While Allen’s nomination has been put on hold, the fact that it wasn’t immediately withdrawn suggests there is at least some feeling that he could survive the investigation.
Panetta sent Dempsey a memo this week asking the Joint Chiefs to brainstorm ‘‘how to better foster a culture of value-based decision-making and stewardship’’ among senior officers and their staff. In other words: come up with a game plan for ending bad behavior.
‘‘As has happened recently, when lapses occur, they have the potential to erode public confidence in our leadership and in our system for the enforcement of high ethical standards,’’ Panetta wrote. ‘‘Worse, they can be detrimental to the execution of our mission to defend the American people.’’
Panetta didn’t mention Petraeus in the memo, and the defense chief’s spokesman said the request for an ethics review was in the works before the Petraeus matter came to light.
Petraeus, in his first media interview since he resigned, told CNN that he had never given classified information to Broadwell. He also said his resignation had nothing to do with his upcoming testimony to Congress about the attack on the US Consulate and CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, that caused the death of four Americans.