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State Department, Leon Panetta added as defendants in Jill Kelley lawsuit
November 22nd, 2013
01:47 PM ET

State Department, Leon Panetta added as defendants in Jill Kelley lawsuit

By CNN Chief Washington Correspondent Jake Tapper and Sherisse Pham

An update on a story "CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper" first reported in August, regarding the sex scandal that brought down former CIA director David Petraeus.

Jill and Scott Kelley, suing the Obama administration for alleged defamation of character during the aftermath of the Petraeus sex scandal, have added new defendants to their lawsuit, including the Department of State, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and outgoing FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce.

Also added are Former Defense Department Spokesman George Little, and two FBI agents.

See the amended complaint here.

The amended lawsuit leaves open the possibility of naming State Department spokesman Mark Toner as a defendant. The Kelleys allege that Toner "willfully misinformed the public about Mrs. Kelley’s diplomatic status" when the Patraeus scandal broke late last year.

Toner told reporters in November 2012 that Kelley had “no formal affiliation with the State Department.”

Jill Kelley at the time was an honorary consul to South Korea.

The lawsuit says Toner's information was damaging to Kelley's reputation, "because it mischaracterized her as a fake, rather than as a serious professional appointed by the Republic of Korea and accredited by the State Department to serve as Honorary Consul."

South Korean officials told CNN in 2012 that “an honorary consul can generally play a role of promoting trade and economic cooperation between the two countries.”

“Honorary Consul” is not a paid position and back in 2012, the State Department and the Defense Department stressed to CNN that Kelley had no official job with the U.S. government. She was strictly a volunteer, they claimed. That’s not quite accurate – Kelley was formally appointed by the Republic of Korea and accredited to the State Department. The position is not purely honorary – it carries with it an official stipend, official responsibilities, and even limited diplomatic privileges and immunities.

The addition of Panetta to the lawsuit stems from a New York Times article, which reported that “Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and other officials traveling with him to Australia overnight on Monday [November 12, 2012] disclosed the inquiry into General Allen’s e-mails with Jill Kelley, the woman in Tampa, Fla., who was seen by Paula Broadwell, Mr. Petraeus’s lover, as a rival for his attentions.”

The lawsuit highlights that the Times article noted that “the Pentagon” characterized the e-mails as “inappropriate communication.”

"Mrs. Kelley’s reputation is indelibly tainted," states the lawsuit. "She is consistently and falsely referred to as the “center” of the “sex scandal” and is wrongly 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 unfairly shouldered the blame as the villain in the generals’ downfall despite the fact that she was trying to protect them," the lawsuit states.

The suit accuses Panetta, Little, and others at the Pentagon as having “made false and defamatory statements concerning the Kelleys, including false statements to paint Mrs. Kelley as unfaithful in her marriage.”

FBI deputy director Joyce, FBI Special Agent Steven E. Ibison, and FBI Special Agent Adam R. Malone are accused of having “used some form of investigation or examination to physically intrude into the Kelley’s private or secret concerns, including personal communications, financial, business and family affairs, and personal relationships that were not in any way relevant to the investigation of the Kelleys’ cyber stalker report, or of any other appropriate or legally authorized investigation or examination.” They are accused of having “intentionally and/or willfully violated the Kelleys’ privacy rights.”

The State Department and the FBI declined to comment, given the pending litigation.

A spokesman for Panetta referred CNN to the Justice Department, which had no comment.

“My family's story is a case study about the damage that can be caused by the government's electronic overreach," Jill Kelley wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal earlier this month. Titled “How the Government Spied on Me,” the opinion piece tried to draw a larger lesson about NSA surveillance from her experience.

"It appears from the NSA's leaks that the government may be trying to collect everything about everyone and everywhere — including America's closest friends and allies — with or without the knowledge of the White House. Unaccountable individuals given free rein to invade people's privacy — and a government that maintains the tools that permit them to do so—are a prescription for a privacy disaster,” Kelley wrote.

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