WASHINGTON -- 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 Mr. Petraeus, Ms. Khawam joined celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred at a packed news conference that left most relevant questions unanswered. Instead of details, Ms. Khawam offered impressions in a voice that sometimes seemed close to breaking.
"During my darkest times, Jill held the light for me," Ms. 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."
Ms. 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 Ms. Allred's arm, Ms. Khawam answered no questions.
Ms. Allred likewise declined to answer detailed questions about Mr. Petraeus, email communications, federal investigations or any other matters that had brought several dozen reporters and television cameras to a Ritz-Carlton hotel conference room. Instead, Ms. Allred focused on Ms. Khawam's appeal of a long-running child custody case.
"Obviously," Ms. Allred said, "there's so much more left to be said."
The intense spotlight began swinging toward Ms. Khawam and her sister when Ms. Kelley's indirect role in Mr. Petraeus' downfall became public.
An ambitious party hostess who made herself known to many senior officers at Tampa, Fla.-based U.S. Central Command, Ms. Kelley initially complained to an FBI special agent about allegedly troubling or threatening anonymous emails she had received.
The subsequent inquiry led to the FBI discovering that the married Mr. Petraeus had had an affair with his married biographer, former Army officer Paula Broadwell.
Pressed by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Mr. Petraeus resigned earlier this month.
The investigation, however, also ensnared Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, who reportedly had had extensive email communications with Ms. Kelley that have been described by defense officials as "flirtatious."
His nomination to head NATO has been placed on hold.
Ever since, Ms. Khawam's and Ms. Kelley's own legal and financial travails have been publicly exposed. Ms. Kelley's bayside mansion in Tampa is in foreclosure, and she and her surgeon husband, Scott, have been entangled in multiple lawsuits. Ms. Khawam filed for bankruptcy protection in April, claiming debts totaling $3.6 million.
Court records in the child custody case indicated that Mr. Petraeus and Gen. Allen had written letters of support on Ms. 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, Ms. Allred said Mr. Petraeus and his wife, Holly, supported Ms. 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."
Ms. Allred also said the National Organization for Women had filed a new appeals brief on Ms. Khawam's behalf.
Ms. 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 Amber Frey, former girlfriend of convicted murderer Scott Peterson, as well as several alleged mistresses of golfer Tiger Woods and a woman who alleged that former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain once fondled her.