WASHINGTON — The sister of the Florida socialite who inadvertently triggered the FBI probe that brought down CIA chief David Petraeus on Tuesday defended both her twin and the former general.
In her first public appearance since the story broke, flanked by her newly hired high-powered lawyer, 37-year-old Nathalie Khawam thanked Petraeus for having supported her in a child custody battle with her former husband.
The names of Khawam and her sister Jill Kelley erupted into the public domain earlier this month after Petraeus confessed to an affair with his 40-year-old biographer Paula Broadwell and resigned from the CIA.
FBI agents uncovered the relationship by chance after Kelley, a friend of Petraeus who organized parties with military officers based at US Central Command in Tampa, complained of having received threatening emails.
Investigators traced the mails to an anonymous account run by Broadwell, and found sexually-explicit messages from her lover, Petraeus, a married man.
The crisis in the security establishment soon became tabloid fodder, and pictures of both the photogenic sisters -- Kelley and Khawam -- appeared in the press, alongside reports and speculation about their family lives.
Khawam has now taken on high-profile women's rights lawyer Gloria Allred, who helped her stage a news conference in Washington, at which few questions were answered but she laid out a strong defense of her sister.
Allred said the aim was the explain "who Natalie Khawam really is, correct some misconceptions ... and to discuss why former CIA director David Petraeus and his wife provided an affidavit in her custody battle."
"Both have known Natalie and her son personally for many years and had many opportunities to observe them together ... they both spoke up to the judge in support to Natalie and what a loving supportive mom she was," she said.
Petraeus in September wrote a letter in support or Khawam's unsuccessful bid to win custody of her son following the breakdown in her marriage, US media earlier reported.
"Natalie feels both General Petraeus and his wife Holly have made so many sacrifices and contributed so much to our country, she will be forever grateful to them for not abandoning her when she needed them the most," Allred said.
The judge in the case wrote that Khawam was dishonest and mentally unstable, but Allred said lawyers were seeking ways to reopen the ruling.
Khawam refused to answer questions, but read an emotional statement praising her sister, who took her in following the break-up and "has loved and supported me through the years and I plan to love and support her unconditionally."