In her adopted city of Charlotte, Paula Broadwell has tried to stay committed and busy with a host of worthy local causes.
But for all her efforts to focus on the here-and-now, it was an infamous and apparently inescapable incident in her past that landed Broadwell’s picture on the front page of The New York Times on Saturday.
The Times’ story, picked up by media outlets across the country and around the world, said the FBI and federal prosecutors in Washington have recommended bringing felony charges against former CIA Director David Petraeus for allegedly providing classified information to Broadwell – his biographer and former lover.
Or as the headline put it, the FBI and prosecutors “Contend CIA Chief Shared Secrets in an Affair.” Federal agents found classified documents on Broadwell’s computer after the affair became public in 2012, resulting in Petraeus’ resignation.
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Described as Petraeus’ former lover in the Times article, Broadwell has been cast as a jealous cyberstalker in another legal drama that could return to the news over the next couple of years.
A federal judge ruled late last year that Jill Kelley, a Florida woman once portrayed as a rival for Petraeus’ affections, could pursue her lawsuit alleging that the U.S. government violated her privacy after she complained about receiving harassing emails. The subsequent investigation led agents to Broadwell and evidence of her affair with Petraeus, a retired four-star general who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Friday night, not long after the Times’ story appeared on the newspaper’s website, Broadwell answered the door at her home in the Dilworth neighborhood but declined to comment to an Observer reporter.
Also Friday night, a “no comment” was emailed to the Observer by Broadwell’s Washington-based attorney, Robert Muse, whose resume includes his work on cases involving classified information.
Being thrust back into the national news, as both Broadwell and Petraeus were this weekend, proves yet again the limits of the fallen trying for new beginnings in the world of online, nonstop news.
“In today’s media environment, once allegations are made, it is hard to erase that connection,” said Michael Bitzer, professor of political science at Catawba College in Salisbury.
Especially, as in the case with Petraeus and Broadwell, when the story is a serious one – and has all the elements of a paperback thriller.
“You have the then-head of the CIA – the nation’s spy agency – caught allegedly sharing secrets with a lover,” Bitzer said. “That’s straight out of a modern-day spy novel.”
The Times’ article says Petraeus has denied he ever provided classified information to Broadwell.
‘Still very helpful’
In the two-plus years since the affair became international news, Broadwell, now 42, has worked, with some success, to forge new identities, at least in Charlotte.
She helps returning military veterans, promotes physical fitness, consults on leadership issues, speaks about world affairs, competes in triathlons, and makes a home in Dilworth with her husband and their two young sons.
In 2013, WCCB-TV interviewed her about the crisis in Syria. The station billed the veteran – she is a major in the Army Reserve – as a “national security analyst and author.” She’s the author of a 2011 biography “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.”
On Veterans Day 2014, Broadwell was one of three people interviewed by Mike Collins on WFAE’s “Charlotte Talks” about the challenges faced by returning veterans. She was introduced as a leadership consultant with the Center for Intentional Leadership and adviser to several veterans support groups, including Charlotte Bridge Home, Purple Heart Homes and Patriot Charities.
During the interview, she also revealed she was leaving the next day for Africa to meet with oil company executives about best practices culled from the battlefield – the focus of a leadership company launched by veterans called Lead Star.
Broadwell also took the opportunity to give an on-air shoutout to Charlotte: “I’m just thrilled to be part of a community that is so patriotic.”
Local organizations serving veterans, including Wounded Warriors, continue to have high regard for Broadwell, who stresses her work in Charlotte.
“Still very helpful. Nothing’s changed,” said Debbie Williams, co-director of Patriot Charities.
Broadwell has also been working to spread to fellow Charlotteans her passion for physical fitness. Last year, she competed in at least four triathlons, three of them in the Charlotte area.
And she’s a co-founder of Active Charlotte Alliance, a group of more than 100 people and organizations that’s been advocating for “an active, healthy and connected” city by “assessing, elevating, hosting and maintaining community-based wellness, sports and fitness programs for all citizens.”
Charlotte could use the attention: In 2014, it ranked 27th in a study of the “fitness index” of America’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.
Last week, at a luncheon, the alliance hosted swimmer Lauren Perdue, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist. And in the spring, according to its website, the alliance will host the Guinness Book Record BootCamp.
Just before Memorial Day 2013, Broadwell said in an interview with WSOC-TV that she had “remorse for the harm, sadness that this (Petraeus affair) has caused in my family and other families and for causes that we belong to.”
But she also made clear that she wanted to move on and leave the past in the past.
“Wife; Mom; Vet; Author; National Security Analyst; Women’s and Wounded Warriors’ Rights Activist; Triathlete/Skier/Surfer.” That’s how Broadwell describes herself these days on her Twitter account.
That focus may not keep Broadwell out of the news, but her colleagues around town say it allows her to work harder for Charlotte and her family.
“Whatever the twists and turns, it never slows her down,” said Tommy Norman, chairman of the board at Charlotte Bridge Home. “She is taking the scar tissue and just capitalizes on it by giving back to the community.”