The Paula Broadwell I know
I first met Paula by email in 2009. In advance of a transatlantic forum engaging 25 young American leaders and an equal number of German counterparts in Berlin and Munich, she sent out a group email laying out the best jogging trails in each city.
Annoying, I thought. This two-week adventure, hosted by the American Council on Germany, would conclude just two days before I would sit for the Colorado bar. Who had time for working out?
Then I learned that she would be my roommate during the program. The last thing I needed was a distraction from some exercise addict. I had yet to write the remarks I was to present on race relations to an impressive audience of international journalists, members of the Bundestag, and some of America’s top rising political stars. I still have no idea how I somehow qualified to be part of the club.
And then she walked into our hotel room. She’d just gone for a run. I was surrounded by bar prep manuals and listening to an audio lesson. I immediately stopped. Had Angelina Jolie just walked in? No, this woman had more amazing skin and better arms. Truly enough for any woman to resent. But she didn’t let me. Her immediate sincerity in getting to know me and learn about my life was downright disarming.
And she was the real deal at the conference: She led a panel in Berlin about strategy and developments involving U.S. and German military operations. Paula and I never did go running, but we did bike together around Munich, and our conference experiences set us on a path of friendship going forward. I was in awe.
I wasn’t alone. Similar responses followed Paula not only throughout Germany, where she had been stationed with the Army previously and where she met her husband, but also in the years since. While she never bothered to mention that she was writing her own manuscript before it was ready to hit the shelves, she passionately promoted the autobiography of Wes Moore, a fellow American participant and author of the best-selling “The Other Wes Moore.” She also provided me generous insight as I struggled to complete my own book manuscript. Her own post-graduate study through the University of London was enough to inspire me to gain acceptance to a program there.
While I postponed my admission due to work and life commitments, Paula did not. In addition to raising two little boys the same ages as my kids, she finished her post-graduate study at the university’s King’s College. At the same time she was working toward her completion of a graduate thesis at Harvard. Oh, and of course, as the world knows now, the last three years have also included time spent embedded in Afghanistan as the biographer for General David Petraeus.
The first time I saw Paula’s book, the now-infamous “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” I was standing in a New York bookstore. Mere days after it came out, it was already climbing fast up the New York Times’ Best Seller List. After the leaving the store, I immediately got on my computer. When I sent her my congratulations, she eagerly responded asking me how she could help me with my book. My initial response: can you finish writing it for me?
Fast forward to this month. I suddenly, through incredibly sad developments, learned that Paula is actually human. Sitting in a beach restaurant while in Hawaii for a legal conference, I saw Paula’s photo flash onto a TV screen. The volume was muted, but it was clear what had happened. She was the alleged mistress behind Petraeus’s CIA resignation. I thought of her beautiful, sweet little family. I thought of the possible implications not only on her own life, but also on our own nation. I kicked myself for not rescheduling work commitments that prevented me from seeing her during a handful of recent trips to Denver and Aspen.
Then I started crying. This is the woman whose strength carried me through the demise of my own marriage, a union that included publicized accounts of infidelity by my ex-husband. I did confide in her. It was in Germany, after talking with her my failing marriage, I realized I deserved to be happy. By the time we left Berlin, I was committed to do the right thing by ending my marriage. Over subsequent late night email and Facebook messages, she talked rarely about her own life’s struggles. Instead, it was all about how I was going to move forward. My heart breaks not only for her, but also for the Petraeus family as well.
When Gen. Petraeus resigned, we didn’t just lose his leadership. We also, and hopefully only temporarily, lost Paula’s. I know she’ll come back. While we’ve only briefly communicated over email in the days since the scandal broke (and we have not discussed her situation in any shape or form), I think as more details emerge, people will get a more accurate picture of the Paula I know.
Initially, she was painted as a jealous mistress, but I believe there is plenty more to be learned about the relationships and activities of Jill Kelley, who got the investigative ball rolling by contacting an FBI agent friend. I would see Paula as an incredibly protective ally, and even though she was involved romantically with Gen. Petraeus, I would say it’s also possible her actions were motivated by the desire to protect her friends in high ranking military positions from a threat we don’t yet know or understand.
Paula, meanwhile, has remained mum since last Thursday. A few months ago, according to government sources, she responded to an initial FBI inquiry into her relationship with Gen. Petraeus not by lawyering up like most public figures would. Instead, she sat down and told them the truth. When she was subsequently asked to let agents search her computer and email accounts, she didn’t demand a search warrant. She opened the door for them. While sensationalized reporting suggests that she may have gained access to confidential documents through her close ties to top officials, the FBI is saying this was not the case.
It remains premature to speculate about adverse motives by Jill Kelley or anyone else involved. So, where do we go from here? Do we abandon Petraeus, a proven military and civilian leader when we need him most? What becomes of Afghanistan? Or Syria and Libya? Who will lead us forward in the aftermath of today’s announcement by Israel that it had taken down a top Hamas leader? Similarly, do we toss Paula Broadwell aside, a woman who has proven herself as one of my generation’s most intelligent diplomacy experts? Do we damn her to the Beltway’s outer fringes even after she admitted her poor behavior freely when approached by investigators?
If we are smart, there is only one reasonable answer. Hell no, we don’t boot them to the curb. Not at a time when our nation’s foreign intelligence needs are greater than ever before. Paula made a huge mistake. She did not break the law. She did not stalk another woman. She never lied to investigators. Regardless, she will now find her footnote in American history, one of countless other patriots who returned to greatness after scandal. I have no doubt of this.
Jessica K. Peck, Esq. is a Denver attorney. She serves as executive director of Colorado’s Open Government Institute and is also a freelance columnist and public policy expert.