The FBI is making a new push to determine how a woman who had an affair with retired Gen. David Petraeus when he was CIA director obtained classified files, part of an expanding series of investigations in a scandal that also threatens the career of the United States' top military commander in Afghanistan.
Senior law enforcement officials said that a late-night seizure on Monday of boxes of material from the North Carolina home of Paula Broadwell, a Petraeus biographer whose affair with him led to his resignation last week, marks a renewed focus by investigators on sensitive material found in her possession.
"The issue of national security is still on the table," one U.S. law enforcement official said. Both Petraeus and Broadwell have denied to investigators that that he was the source of any classified information, officials said.
The surprise move by the FBI follows previous assertions by U.S. officials that the investigation had turned up no evidence of a security breach -- a factor that was cited as a reason the Justice Department did not notify the White House before last week that the CIA director had been ensnared in an email inquiry.
Investigations of the matter also expanded on other fronts.
The Defense Department announced Tuesday that its inspector general is examining hundreds of emails between Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and a Florida woman also linked to the Petraeus investigation.
At the same time, key lawmakers signaled Tuesday their intent to scrutinize the Justice Department's handling of an inquiry that focused initially on a potential conflict between two private people but quickly morphed into an exhaustive examination of the email of two top national security officers.
"My immediate gut is like this is the National Enquirer," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who is chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, said in an interview on CNN. "I mean, every day there is something new."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Barack Obama maintains confidence in Allen, and that the four-star Marine Corps general will continue to lead the war in Afghanistan even as he faces the inspector general's inquiry.
"I can tell you that the president thinks very highly of General Allen and his service to his country, as well as the job he has done in Afghanistan," Carney said, adding that Obama "has faith in General Allen, believes he's doing and has done an excellent job."
At the same time, however, Carney said that Obama put on hold Allen's nomination to serve as supreme allied commander for NATO forces in Europe, canceling Allen's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week.
The Allen investigation focuses on his extensive correspondence with Jill Kelley, a Tampa, Fla., resident who had carved out a role as an ad-hoc social ambassador to military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base.
Kelley, 37, was a close friend of Petraeus and inadvertently triggered the investigation that led to his resignation when she complained to an FBI agent earlier this year about threatening email she had received from an anonymous sender who suggested that Kelley was having an intimate relationship with Petraeus. The bureau determined that the messages were sent by Broadwell, and the inquiry exposed her affair.
The investigation also revealed that Broadwell had sent a handful of emails to Allen -- using the handle "kelleypatrol" -- including one in which she described Kelley as a "seductress" and warned him to stay away from her, according to a law enforcement official.
Close associates of Allen, who is married, said the general denied that he had an affair with Kelley or that he had committed any wrongdoing in his communications with her. One said that investigators may have misconstrued platonic references to her as a "sweetheart."
Nevertheless, the bureau turned over a mountain of documents to Pentagon officials, including an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 pages, based largely on communication between Allen and Kelley, prompting Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to order an inspector general inquiry.
The sequence of events, and the seemingly belated disclosures that Petraeus and Allen had been ensnared in the same investigation, have placed scrutiny on the Justice Department and the FBI.
The inquiry had been under way for months before the FBI notified the director of national intelligence on election night that the bureau had uncovered evidence that the CIA director was having an affair.
The Allen emails surfaced as part of the same inquiry over the summer, but notification of his involvement came even later. Carney said that the White House was not aware of the "situation" regarding Allen until Friday, adding that the revelations about the general and Petraeus stunned the president.
Defense officials said the FBI contacted Jeh Johnson, the Pentagon's top counsel, Sunday afternoon. He then called Jeremy Bash, Panetta's chief of staff, who was flying with his boss to Asia. Within 24 hours, Panetta approved an inspector general investigation.