Natalie Khawam emerged tentatively from the shadows Tuesday to put a human face on her role as one of the side characters in the drama that cost former CIA Director David Petraeus his job.
The twin sister of Tampa, Fla., socialite Jill Kelley, whose complaint to the FBI ultimately undermined Petraeus, Khawam joined celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred at a packed news conference that left most relevant questions unanswered. Instead of details, Khawam offered impressions in a voice that sometimes seemed close to breaking.
“During my darkest times, Jill held the light for me,” Khawam declared, reading from a prepared statement. “She and my brother-in-law, Dr. Kelley, took me in with my son when we needed refuge and protection.”
Khawam, 37, further spoke of how she and her sister played tennis and softball together. They like cooking, chess and playing the piano, she said. They used to study together, she added. Then, having entered the room clutching Allred’s arm, Khawam answered no questions.
Allred likewise declined to answer detailed questions about Petraeus, email communications, federal investigations or any of the other matters that had brought several dozen reporters and television cameras to a conference room of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Instead, Allred focused on Khawam’s appeal of a long-running child custody case.
“Obviously,” Allred said, “there’s so much more left to be said.”
The intense spotlight began swinging toward Khawam and her sister when Kelley’s indirect role in Petraeus’ downfall became public.
An ambitious party hostess who made herself known to many senior officers at Tampa-based U.S. Central Command, Kelley initially complained to an FBI special agent about allegedly troubling or threatening anonymous emails she’d received. The subsequent inquiry led to the FBI discovering that the married Petraeus had had an affair with his married biographer, former Army officer Paula Broadwell.
Pressed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Petraeus resigned earlier this month.
The investigation, however, also ensnared Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, who reportedly had had extensive email communications with Kelley that have been described as “flirtatious.” His nomination to head NATO has been placed on hold.
Ever since, Khawam’s and Kelley’s own legal and financial travails have been publicly exposed. Kelley’s bay-side mansion in Tampa is in foreclosure, and she and her surgeon husband, Scott, have been entangled in multiple lawsuits. Khawam filed for bankruptcy protection in April, claiming debts totaling $3.6 million.
Court records in the child custody case indicated that Petraeus and Allen had written letters of support on Khawam’s behalf, though District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Neal Kravitz cited in a Nov. 9, 2011, document “serious concerns not only about Ms. Khawam’s credibility as a witness, but also about her lack of integrity (and) her alienating behavior.”
On Tuesday, Allred said Petraeus and his wife, Holly, supported Khawam because “both have known Natalie and her son personally for many years. . . . They both spoke up through their court declarations in support of Natalie . . . when they learned that she was being unfairly portrayed and was a victim of injustice.”
Allred also said the National Organization for Women had filed a new appeals brief on Khawam’s behalf..
Allred describes herself on her website as “the most famous woman attorney practicing in the nation today,” though the three-time Emmy nominee is known more now for her news conferences than her courtroom performances.
The 69-year-old Loyola University School of Law graduate has represented the likes of Amber Frey, the former girlfriend of convicted murderer Scott Peterson, as well as several alleged mistresses of golfer Tiger Woods and a woman who alleged that former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain once fondled her.
Kelley now has her own attorney, Washington-based criminal defense specialist Abbe Lowell, as well as a “crisis communications” specialist named Judy Smith. Lowell has a long political pedigree, previously representing politicians such as former California Congressman Gary Condit and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.
Smith, too, is well connected, having guided the likes of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
By Michael Doyle