Gen. John Allen, the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has been cleared by the Pentagon of any professional misconduct in e-mail communications he had with a Tampa socialite at the center of the David Petraeus scandal that led to his resignation as CIA Director.
The development could jumpstart Allen's nomination to be the next commander of NATO, which was placed on hold after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requested a Pentagon Inspector General investigation in November.
In a statement, Pentagon spokesman George Little said Panetta was "pleased to learn that allegations of professional misconduct were not substantiated by the investigation." He added that Panetta "has complete confidence in the continued leadership of General Allen, who is serving with distinction in Afghanistan."
"The Inspector General determined that the allegations against Allen were unsubstantiated," a Defense Department official said. The official said that with the determination, the case against Allen is closed.
Allen's spokesman in Afghanistan, Maj. David Nevers, did not have an immediate comment on the announcement.
Allen, a Marine general, had been under investigation since mid-November when it was revealed that he too had engaged in significant e-mail contacts with Jill Kelley, the Tampa socialite who was at the center of the scandal involving the affair between Gen. David Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell.
It was Kelley who first contacted the FBI office in Tampa last year after she received concerning e-mails that were later determined to have come from Broadwell. Those e-mails warned Kelley not to contact Petraeus, whom she had first met when he was the commander of U.S. Central Command, based in Tampa.
At the conclusion of its investigation in early November, the FBI informed the Pentagon that it had encountered almost 20,000 to 30,000 pages of documents of contacts between Allen and Kelley.
At the time Defense officials said a small portion of those contacts were deemed to be "flirtatious" in tone. A senior Defense official said the contacts were "potentially inappropriate and bear looking into." Adultery is a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Panetta referred the matter to the Pentagon's Inspector General. The White House also announced that Allen's nomination to be the next commander of NATO and European Command had been placed on hold "pending the investigation of GEN Allen's conduct by the Department of Defense I.G."
Allen denied any wrongdoing at the time the investigation was launched. Allen's successor as the top commander in Afghanistan, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, has been confirmed by the Senate and is scheduled to take over on Feb. 10.
In an op-ed appearing in Wednesday's editions of the Washington Post, Jill Kelley and her husband Scott lamented their loss of privacy and labeled as "presposterous" the "innuendo and falsehoods" generated in the press that she had engaged in an extramarital affair.
They said the "most painful" innuendo involved Kelley's contacts with Allen and "that some 30,000 e-mails were sent to a general from the e-mail address we share."
"This is untrue," they wrote. "And the insinuation that Jill was involved in an extramarital affair is as preposterous as it is hurtful to our family."
They said this "small sample of junk reporting was emotionally exhausting and damaging - as it would be to the strongest of families." "Our family committed no crime and sought no publicity," the Kelleys said.
"We simply appealed for help after receiving anonymous e-mails with threats of blackmail and extortion. When the harassment escalated to acts of cyberstalking in the early fall, we were, naturally, terrified for the safety of our daughters and ourselves. Consequently, we did what Americans are taught to do in dangerous situations: sought the help of law enforcement.
"Our story stands as a cautionary tale. We have experienced how careless handling of our information by law enforcement and irresponsible news headlines endanger citizens' privacy. We know our lives will never be the same, and we want to prevent others from having their privacy invaded merely for reporting abusive, potentially criminal, behavior."
The Washington Post was first to report on Tuesday that Allen had been cleared by the Pentagon's Inspector General.