Jill Kelley is a fixture on the Tampa, Florida, military scene, volunteering for community relations work with foreign military officers and their families stationed at MacDill Air Force base.
She is also a friend of David Petraeus, and yet, she appears to have contributed to his stunning downfall and departure as director of the CIA.
It was Ms. Kelley’s complaints about harassing emails from the woman with whom Mr. Petraeus had an extramarital affair, Paula Broadwell, that prompted an FBI investigation that later exposed the liaison and led to his resignation last week.
People close to Mr. Petraeus have said Ms. Kelley is a family friend and that there was no romantic relationship. It’s unclear why Ms. Broadwell would have sent threatening emails to her, but she may have seen her as a rival for Mr. Petraeus’ affections, the same people said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The scandal has tarnished the reputation of a revered general and raised questions about how the FBI handled the situation and when the White House learned of the affair, which became public after the Nov. 6 presidential election.
It has also brought uncomfortable attention to three women in Mr. Petraeus’ life: Ms. Kelley, Ms. Broadwell and his wife of more than 37 years, Holly, an official with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Ms. Kelley and her husband, Scott Kelley, a Tampa cancer surgeon, became friends with Mr. Petraeus when he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa from 2008 until 2010, people familiar with the situation said.
At the time, Mr. Petraeus was commander of the U.S. military’s Central Command, which runs operations in the Middle East and South Asia. The two families socialized in Tampa and in Washington, the people said.
Unlike Ms. Broadwell, who has been silent and out of public view since the story broke on Friday, Ms. Kelley has put out a statement on her family’s friendship with the Petraeuses and asked that her family’s privacy be respected.
A source close to the family said that Ms. Kelley is now being advised on how to respond to the Petraeus uproar by one of Washington’s most prominent trial lawyers, Abbe Lowell, a family friend who has represented high-profile criminal defendants like former U.S. Senator John Edwards and disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Mr. Lowell did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Kelley has also enlisted the help of Judy Smith, a well-known crisis PR manager who is the model for the ultra-effective fixer and spin doctor Olivia Pope in the ABC Thursday night TV drama Scandal.
Ms. Kelley could not be reached for comment. She was spotted driving away from her Tampa home on Monday in a car with “Honorary Consul” on the license plate. She is considered an unofficial ambassador at the MacDill base, promoting community relations with foreign liaison officers, said a source familiar with the situation.
Ms. Kelley is the daughter of Marcelle and John Khawam, now of Washington Crossing, Pa., but with roots in the Northeast section of Philadelphia, said her brother, David Khawam, a lawyer who practices in Westmont, N.J. The Lebanese-born parents owned three restaurants, all called Sahara, when their children were growing up.
Ms. Kelley’s vocation has been to be an “honorary ambassador” to the military, her brother said. “She has always wanted to take a certain role, in giving back to the community,” he said.
He said it’s not surprising she would go to the FBI after receiving threatening emails from an unknown source, considering her connections to the military and the fact that she has a wealthy husband and young children.
“I believe my sister probably reported this because of fear that somebody may be serious in any kind of threats they may be making towards her,” he said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the FBI agent who started the investigation was a friend of Ms. Kelley’s. He was later barred from taking part in the case over concerns that he had become personally involved. Officials found that he had sent shirtless pictures to Ms. Kelley, the Journal reported.
The agent’s identity has not been disclosed.
Ms. Kelley, 37, also has an identical twin sister, Natalie Khawam, with whom she appears with Holly and David Petraeus and her husband in a 2010 photo published in newspapers on Monday.
Court records show Ms. Kelley played a role in a bitter child custody trial that preceded the divorce case between Ms. Khawam, and Ms. Khawam’s then-husband, Grayson Wolfe of Washington, who once worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.