No FBI agent, wearing a shirt or not, searched my email this week, but I did, and I found two notes to Paula Broadwell, written on Aug. 31, before she became, yes, Paula Broadwell.
I should have known her. She had written a book, “All In: The Education of David Petraeus.” Beginning in January, she had made promotional rounds that included national television appearances. Still, I hadn’t heard her name until a friend said it was important that I talk to her. My friend must have assumed that I was the kind of person who paid attention. She said, casually, “Just drop Paula an email.”
Paula? For all I knew, this Paula person wore sensible shoes, put her hair up in a bun, and worked in a windowless basement room. She would be one more earnest, benumbed bureaucrat turning the hamster wheel of Big Government. She mattered only because she could arrange an interview with Petraeus.
A touch of backstory: The way things work in Washington, someone knew someone who knew someone who knew Davey Johnson, the manager of the Nationals. One of those networking someones had gone to Johnson with a proposal that the Nationals should invite Petraeus to throw out the first pitch on Military Appreciation Day, Sept. 9.
Short of the reincarnation of Walter Johnson, or a reversal of the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg, there could be few developments more entertaining in our nation’s capital than the appearance of David Petraeus on the mound at Nationals Park. This was big. Baseball was hot in D.C. for the first time in 80 years. The Nationals were in a pennant race that might take them to the World Series. Besides, in a town of politicians with approval ratings so low they make the Mendoza Line look good, Petraeus was a rock star. An American war hero. The CIA’s top spook. Soon, maybe very soon, he could be president of the United States.
It would be fun to talk with Petraeus about the first pitch thing. My friend had this advice: “In your note to Paula, make sure you mention Teddy. Petraeus loves Teddy.”
You may know Teddy. He gets a call here because an integral part of the Petraeus legend is the general’s admiration for Theodore Roosevelt. He considered Roosevelt the model warrior/politician/statesman, The Man in the Arena, all that rugged individualism, the Rough Rider charging hell-for-leather up San Juan Hill. Roosevelt’s alter ego bobblehead, Teddy, is one of the Nationals’ four presidential mascots who run a daily race at the ballpark. Abe Lincoln wins most often, 214 times so far, with George Washington next at 162, and Tom Jefferson third with 157. In seven seasons, Teddy never won a race. He was 0 for 533.
So, at 11:08.22 a.m. on Aug. 31, I emailed this Paula Broadwell drone with my request to interview Petraeus. I imagined Broadwell at her computer, stern, lips pursed, demanding that all supplicants be vetted and worshipful. I wrote that I would ask Petraeus only one question: “General, what can you do, after you throw out the first pitch, to help Teddy end his seven-year losing streak?”
Just 12 minutes later, Broadwell replied:
“Hi Dave. Will share with David Petraeus! He insists he won’t coach unless the Nats let Teddy win. More soon!”
Exclamation points! Maybe her hair was not up in a bun.
She also passed along a journalistic tip designed to help me beat The Washington Post to the story: “WaPo may do something on this, too, so write quickly to get the first gouge!”
Exclamation points must be contagious, for in reply to my new pal, Paula, at 11:30, I typed:
“I’ll write it the day we talk!”
This time it took only two minutes for my BFF to reply:
“He can’t do press interviews, unfortunately, but I can forward your questions and his responses back to you. I sent him your first note. Let’s see how he responds and go from there!”
Because, alas, I heard no more from Paula or Petraeus, I depended on my D.C. friend for a briefing after the game of Sept. 9. “The general’s first pitch,” she said, “was routine and swift, a competent throw near the plate. The smiling CIA director was happy that he performed up to his expectations, did not embarrass himself with a clumsy toss. Stadium-wide applause that felt genuine and warm went on for moments.” She said Broadwell gave a copy of her book to Davey Johnson and watched from seats between home plate and third base, halfway up, never part of the Petraeus ceremony or entourage.
And, while Teddy lost again that day, the fitness freak Petraeus may have inspired the old guy to get in shape. On the last day of the Nationals’ regular season, Teddy won a race.
By then, of course, Broadwell and Petraeus were otherwise occupied. Their secret was dissolving. The Wall Street Journal reported that FBI agents interviewed the general twice in September and spoke once with Broadwell. On Nov. 9, Petraeus resigned from his CIA job and, in effect, public life.
Curious about another thing, I went to the all-knowing Google machine. There I read about a Native American woman who, a long time ago, lived in Maine alongside Fourth Debsconeag Lake.
Local lore suggested she was a mistress to a president of the United States who came north to get away from the pressures of Washington.