Official: Emails between Gen. John Allen and Fla. socialite "flirtatious"

WASHINGTON The sex scandal that led to CIA Director David Petraeus' downfall widened Tuesday with word the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is under investigation for thousands of alleged "inappropriate communications" with another woman involved in the case. One defense official told CBS News the communications were "flirtatious."

Even as the FBI prepared a timeline for Congress about the investigation that brought to light Petraeus' extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta revealed that the Pentagon had begun an internal investigation into emails between Gen. John Allen and a Florida woman involved in the case.

One senior official told CBS News correspondent David Martin that the vast majority of the emails between Allen and Tampa socialite Jill Kelley "are completely innocuous," and he thinks that many of them are duplicates. He said that in some of the emails Kelley would say, "Saw you on television and you were terrific," and Allen would write back with "thanks sweetheart." The official also added that the two never discussed sex and that Allen had never been alone with Kelley.

The emails discovered in Kelley's files date back to 2010, when Allen served as Deputy Commander at the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, reports CBS News correspondent Bob Orr.

Pentagon and FBI sources have characterized the emails as "inappropriate" and "flirtatious." One senior official said, for example, Kelley would write something like, "saw you on television and you were terrific." Allen would respond with something like: "thanks sweetheart."

Another defense official said that "General Allen has denied he had an extramarital affair," but to whom he made that denial is unclear. The reason there is an Inspector General investigation, he said, is that flirtatious language, depending on its content, could be seen as bringing discredit on the military, which is a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

It wasn't immediately clear who wrote the flirtatious notes -- Allen, Kelley, or both.

While some officials have described the emails as just terms of endearment, others say "if that were the only thing that was in there then we wouldn't be asking the Inspector General to look into it." He said some of the e-mails appear to be "more than just friendly exchanges . . .more than just terms of endearment."

Allen has denied having an affair, and friends of Kelley point out she used an account she shares with her husband to correspond with Allen. Still, even "flirtatious" emails could cost Allen his career if the Inspector General determines that the content is dishonorable and violates the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Allen succeeded Petraeus as the top American commander in Afghanistan in July 2011, and his nomination to become the next commander of U.S. European Command and the commander of NATO forces in Europe has now been put on hold, as the scandal seemed certain to ensnare another acclaimed military figure. Martin reported that Allen remains in command and is scheduled to return to Afghanistan on Saturday.

In a White House statement early Tuesday, National Security spokesman Tommy Vietor said President Barack Obama has held Allen's nomination at Panetta's request. Obama, the statement said, "remains focused on fully supporting our extraordinary troops and coalition partners in Afghanistan, who Gen. Allen continues to lead as he has so ably done for over a year."

It was Broadwell's allegedly threatening emails to Kelley, a Petraeus family friend, that led to the FBI's discovery of communications between Broadwell and Petraeus indicating they were having an affair. Petraeus acknowledged the affair when he resigned from the CIA post on Friday.

In the latest revelations, a Pentagon official traveling with Panetta to Australia said "inappropriate communications" -- 20,000 to 30,000 pages of emails and other documents from Allen's communications with Kelley between 2010 and 2012 -- are under review. The official would not say whether they involved sexual matters or whether they are thought to include unauthorized disclosures of classified information. He said he did not know whether Petraeus is mentioned in the emails.

Allen has denied wrongdoing. He was due to give Panetta a recommendation soon on the pace of U.S. troop withdrawals in 2013. If Allen was found to have had an affair with Kelley, he could face charges of adultery, which is a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The decision by the FBI to hand off the Allen information to the military seems to indicate the issue is not one involving the handling of classified information, but rather some other issue.

The Petraeus case has sparked an uproar in Congress, with lawmakers complaining they should have been told earlier about the probe that has roiled the intelligence and military establishment.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the latest revelations in the case "a Greek tragedy."

"It's just tragic," King said Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show. "This has the elements in some ways of a Hollywood movie or a trashy novel."

The issue of what the FBI knew, when it notified top Obama administration officials, and when Congress was told, has brought criticism from lawmakers, who say they should have been told earlier.