TAMPA, Fla. — Jill Kelley wants the world to know that she didn’t do anything wrong when she befriended top military brass.
The Tampa socialite at the center of a scandal involving Gen. David Petraeus has hired a top Washington attorney and seems to be trying to change the narrative about her friendship with the general, her past and her role as an “honorary consul” to the country of South Korea.
On Tuesday, Kelley’s attorney Abbe Lowell released emails, telephone recordings and other material that he and Kelley say proves she never tried to exploit her friendship with Petraeus.
Lowell wrote to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa, demanding to know why the name of his client and her husband were revealed during the FBI’s investigation of Petraeus and his mistress, Paula Broadwell.
Officials said they were led to Kelley because Broadwell sent her threatening messages to stay away from Petraeus. Lowell addressed this in a letter to W. Stephen Muldrow, the assistant U.S. Attorney in Tampa.
“You no doubt have seen the tremendous attention that the Kelleys have received in the media,” Lowell wrote. “All they did to receive this attention was to let law enforcement know that they had been the subjects of inappropriate and potentially threatening behavior by someone else.”
Lowell added that federal privacy laws could be applicable to the couple’s information.
“These leaks most certainly had to come, at least in part, from government sources,” Lowell said. “The earliest and best example of the leaks would be the release to the media of the names of my clients. As you know, there are several rules and laws that seek to protect United States citizens against such leaks.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tampa did not return telephone calls for comment Tuesday.
Kelley, a 37-year-old mother of three, became the focus of national media attention earlier this month. She and her husband, cancer surgeon Scott Kelley, befriended Petraeus and Gen. John Allen when the generals served at U.S. Central Command, which is headquartered at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base. Kelley became an unofficial social ambassador for the base. She was well known around Tampa’s social scene and often hosted parties at her waterfront mansion.
When the FBI investigated Broadwell’s emails to Kelley, they also discovered numerous emails between Kelley and the generals. The Pentagon is investigating the emails between her and Allen. Some have called a few of the emails between the two “flirtatious,” but sources close to Kelley say they were not.
The scandal this week cost Kelley her appointment as an honorary consul for the South Korean government, which she had gotten because of her friendship with Petraeus. The Koreans said she had misused the title in her personal business dealings.
Lowell sent another letter to a businessman for whom Kelley tried to broker a deal with South Korea.
The businessman, Adam Victor, said he met Kelley in late August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where they discussed having Kelley represent Victor’s company on a coal-gasification deal it was negotiating with South Korean companies.
On Aug. 30, according to the documents provided by her attorney, Victor sent Kelley an email saying they were seeking bids from four major Korean firms — Samsung, Hyundai, GS and GK — and that he expected the bidding to potentially reach $3 billion. There were several back-and-forth emails through mid-September as Victor and Kelley tried to negotiate a fee for her work, with her saying she was seeking 2 percent of the deal and Victor trying to clarify what she meant.
There were no other emails until Victor sent one Nov. 9, when Kelley’s name surfaced in the Petraeus scandal. He wrote two more times after that before she responded.
When she finally did, he sent back another email in which he remarked, “When I heard about Petraeus, I thought of you.” In a follow-up email, he asked if she was still in a position to help with Korea. She didn’t respond.
In a Nov. 14 interview with the AP, Victor said it had become clear that Kelley was not a skilled negotiator and that he had wasted his time dealing with her.
In a letter released Tuesday and dated Nov. 21, Lowell accused Victor of seeking his “15 minutes of fame” by talking to the news media about his client. Lowell said Victor had defamed Kelley with his clients and misstated her desire for 2 percent of the profits by saying she wanted 2 percent of the entire deal. Lowell also accused Victor of unspecified inappropriate behavior toward Kelley.
“If you want to continue seeking publicity for yourself, that is one thing,” Lowell wrote to Victor. “However, if you do that by maligning a person, that is something else.” He then accused Victor of casting Kelley in a false light and suggested his attorney contact Lowell to discuss the matter.
Victor told the AP late Tuesday that he never accused Kelley of wrongdoing, but had just said she was naive and not an experienced negotiator. He also said his female assistant was present every time he met with Kelley.
“It’s not a crime to be a novice,” Victor said. “I don’t know why they are talking to me.”
The third letter was sent from Kelley’s attorney Tuesday to the Attorney Consumer Assistance Program, which handles complaints about lawyers on behalf of the Florida Bar. In that letter, Lowell accused Tampa attorney Barry Cohen of breaking attorney-client privilege by publicly speaking about conversations he had with Kelley in 2009 while representing her in a dispute she had with a tenant. In those conversations, Lowell said, they discussed her friendships with various military personnel.
Kelley’s sister, Natalie Khawam, once worked as an attorney in Cohen’s firm and later sued him for sexual harassment and breach of contract. In court responses, Cohen said Khawam “has a judicially documented recent history and continuing propensity for the commission of perjury.”
Cohen said Tuesday evening that he had not seen Lowell’s complaint letter and that Kelley had “lost the battle in the court of public opinion.”
“No matter how many high-priced lawyers and publicists she employs, she has been exposed for what she is,” he said.
Prior to Tuesday, Kelley, her attorney and her publicist had only publicly addressed the situation once, in a statement to the news media when the scandal first broke.