Petraeus Scandal Leads to New Client for Crisis Firm Smith & Co.

D.C. Shop That Inspired ABC TV drama 'Scandal' Also Worked on Lewinsky Matter

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Real-life is meeting the world of TV make-believe as the crisis firm that inspired the ABC drama "Scandal" is now playing a part in the biggest political scandal America's seen in nearly a decade.

Jill Kelley, the Florida woman who Sunday was identified as the person who sparked an FBI investigation that uncovered CIA Director General David Petraeus' extramarital affair, has enlisted the help of Washington-based crisis firm Smith & Co., according to news reports.

Judy Smith
Judy Smith

Smith & Co. didn't respond to a request for comment. USA Today reported that Ms. Kelley and her husband, Scott, hired Smith & Co.'s founder, PR maven Judy Smith, and attorney Abbe Lowell. Fox News, in writing about the FBI probe, also noted Smith & Co.'s new role in working with the Kelley family.

Details in the Petraeus scandal have been continually revealed since the scandal broke Friday, but many questions remain. The Senate Intelligence Committee will investigate why the FBI failed to immediately tell the White House and Congress when it discovered that ex-CIA director had an extramarital affair.

The first mention of Ms. Kelley's involvement didn't come until Sunday. The Tampa, Fla.-based woman has been referred to as an unpaid social liaison at MacDill Air Force Base, who was reportedly friendly with Gen. Petraeus and his wife -- with the families even spent the holidays together. Ms. Kelley is understood to have alerted the FBI to "threatening emails" allegedly aimed at the CIA director. That move prompted an investigation uncovering an affair between Gen. Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell, both of whom are married with children. The CIA director resigned late last week after confirming an affair.

Ms. Kelley asked Smith & Co. to release a statement Sunday on her behalf: "We and our family have been friends with Gen. Petraeus and his family for over five years. We respect his and his family's privacy and want the same for us and our three children."

In short order, news outlets began reporting that Ms. Kelley -- contrary to what some early reports suggested -- did not have an affair with General Petraeus. Although that bit of information is not directly tied to a statement from the crisis firm or to Ms. Kelley's communications strategy, it's a key detail that Ms. Kelley likely wanted to make public.

The person advising her has been at the center of a fair share of crises, to be sure. Judy Smith joined the White House in 1991, appointed as special assistant and deputy press secretary to President George H. W. Bush. She's parlayed that experience into being an adviser on a string of high-profile government, celebrity and corporate crises.

According to her website, Ms. Smith's experience includes matters related to: President Bill Clinton's scandal involving Monica Lewinsky; the Iran Contra investigation; the prosecution of former Washington Mayor Marion Barry; the 1991 Gulf War; the Los Angeles riots; the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas; the congressional inquiry of Enron and the United Nations Foundation; and World Health Organization response to the SARS epidemic.

The site also notes that she has provided counsel to companies including United Healthcare, Americhoice, Walmart and AIG; various heads of state; and celebrity and entertainment clients such as Wesley Snipes; and the family of Chandra Levy, the Washington intern who was found murdered in 2001.

Kerry Washington stars in the ABC drama
Kerry Washington stars in the ABC drama "Scandal"

That resume offered up some inspiration for TV writers, who used Smith & Co. as the basis for the ABC drama "Scandal." The show, now in its second season, stars actress Kerry Washington and features a well-connected D.C. crisis firm with ties to the White House and high-profile clients embroiled in scandal.

Ms. Smith serves as co-executive producer of the show and provides insight and technical expertise on crisis management issues. We'll just have to wait and see if the fall from grace of Mr. Petraeus, one of the most respected military minds in history, becomes a storyline.

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