WASHINGTON -- Jill Kelley, the Tampa, Fla., socialite whose FBI complaint about threatening emails set off the investigation that exposed CIA Director David Petraeus' extramarital affair and led to his resignation, sued the FBI and the Defense Department on Monday for what she claims was a breach of her privacy.
The suit, filed in federal court in Washington, alleges that FBI agents and Defense Department employees disclosed Kelley's identity to outside parties, including the news media, and violated her privacy while investigating Petraeus' extramarital relationship with Paula Broadwell, the author of a Petraeus biography. Kelley, who frequently hosted Petraeus and his wife at parties, complained to the FBI that Broadwell had sent her threatening emails, and had viewed Kelley as a potential competitor for Petreaus' affections. The FBI later dropped the investigation without charges.
The lawsuit, filed by Kelley and her husband, surgeon Scott Kelley, seeks unspecified monetary damages, a formal apology, and an accounting of the information the FBI and Defense Department gathered about them. The complaint details how the Kelleys' lives were turned upside down once their names were publicly linked to the Petraeus scandal.
In addition to the nonstop media attention, the revelation that Jill Kelley had communicated on a regular basis with both Petraeus and Gen. John Allen led to suggestions she may have had romantic relationships with the commanders. Allen abruptly retired after the disclosure.
"There was no legally acceptable reason for the government to disclose confidential information about the Kelleys and thereby make them part of the public scandal," the lawsuit says. Details about the Kelleys' personal lives and their financial difficulties was widely reported.
"Mrs. Kelley’s reputation is indelibly tainted," the complaint says. "She is consistently referred to as the 'center' of the 'sex scandal' and is often portrayed as the woman who brought down two American generals. As a result, she -- the victim and a participant in none of the bad acts in the sex scandal -- has shouldered the blame as the villain in the generals’ downfall."
The suit describes damage to Jill Kelley's social reputation and connections to those in high places, which it claims were key to her earnings. The scandal caused the revocation of Jill Kelley's honorary consulship to South Korea, which "deprived her of significant social and financial networking, investment, and business fee finder opportunities, as well as the loss of the tax-free annual stipend for years," the suit says. Today, Jill Kelley "no longer receives prestigious invitations to the diplomatic and distinguished governmental functions." The complaint adds that "Dr. Kelley also suffered dramatic financial losses."
The lawsuit is peppered with links to news articles about the Kelleys from late 2012. According to one, the Kelleys were considering legal action as far back as late November, when their attorney at the time, D.C. powerhouse litigator Abbe Lowell, released a slew of emails and phone records intended to prove that Jill Kelley did not exploit her friendship with Petraeus for financial gain.
But now, six months later, the issue of potential overreach in a federal investigation has taken on a very different tenor in Washington, a fact likely not lost on Kelley and her attorneys. Public anger has erupted over news that the Department of Justice gathered journalists' phone and email records in leak investigations. This, combined with a scandal at the Internal Revenue Service over the targeting of tea party groups for special tax scrutiny, has put the Obama administration on defense.
In the ensuing months, Jill Kelley has emerged as an advocate for greater Internet privacy and received an award from the Electronic Privacy Information Center on Monday.
Jill Kelley said in a statement provided to The Huffington Post that her experience "made me an advocate for privacy rights for every American." She said she would continue to work to ensure that citizens would "not have their personal communications improperly and unreasonably searched by overreaching government or any other abuse of government powers."
The Justice Department has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.