There’s an expression that no one uses anymore: “turn up like a bad penny,” which I guess means to keep showing up when you’re not wanted, I don’t know. But that’s coal, anyway: always turning up when it’s not wanted. Like in power production, for example. And in extremely high-profile scandals involving CIA directors, their paramours, and tangentially related other women and other generals.


If you haven’t been paying attention to l’affaire Petraeus, you have made the right decision. Because every 15 minutes some major new aspect of it is discovered or debunked or reinforced. Trying to keep up with it is futile. If you want to read the latest, I’d recommend the Mother Jones explainer. They might as well just have the page automatically refresh every 15 seconds.

There’s one name that it’s important you know, for our purposes: Jill Kelley. Jill Kelley — and I am not making any of this up — is a married Tampa woman who prompted the entire Petraeus investigation by telling a friend in the FBI that she’d received threatening emails from the woman romantically linked to Petraeus, who Kelley knew thanks to her work as a volunteer at MacDill Air Force base and the various parties and shindigs she and her husband hosted for military personnel at their home. Kelley is also, apparently, an “honorary consul” to South Korea, status which appears to derive from asking South Korea if you can be an honorary consul and which does not allow you “diplomatic protection,” should you seek it (as Kelley discovered). (Not related to the issue at hand: Kelley’s twin sister, the sketchy cancer charity Kelley and her husband ran, or reports of scads of suggestive emails between Kelley and another general.) Go read that full explainer. It’s bananas.

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But that brings us to coal. The coal industry is desperate to open new markets in Asia, given plummeting domestic demand. Hustles attract hustlers. And so we meet Adam Victor, millionaire coal-plant builder/advocate and purple-shirt wearer.

From the Los Angeles Times:

At the Republican National Convention in Tampa in August, New York energy entrepreneur Adam Victor was introduced to Kelley. She was described as “a very close friend of Gen. Petraeus,” who had helped Kelley become South Korea’s honorary consul.

Victor, who was looking to establish a major coal project in South Korea, invited Kelley to New York in mid-September. There, she again played up her Petraeus ties. Victor then flew Kelley to Hawaii to meet with a South Korean delegation to help pave the way for negotiations.

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But then, Victor said, Kelley asked for 2% of the gross cost of the project for her compensation. Informed that would mean a fee of about $80 million, Kelley persisted until Victor ended the relationship. An industry standard compensation would be no more than $1 million, Victor said.

“It was such an astronomical figure that it suggested she had no experience in negotiating these types of deals,” Victor said. “Gen. Petraeus had a lapse in judgment in using his influence to put her in that position.”

And here’s one way coal deals are made: leveraging connections, however tenuous, with a lot of money at stake.

This is a tiny footnote in the grand scheme of the head of the Central Intelligence Agency stepping down shortly before being called to testify before Congress. Beyond a footnote. A footnote to a footnote set off with parentheses.

Seeing some odd coal deal end up mixed in with this whole, sprawling scandal is weird but unsurprising. A bad penny is a fake, a scam, a bit of cash you can’t spend but always ends up in your pocket. A bad penny keeps turning up.

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