Former CIA director David Petraeus was preparing to field questions yesterday from lawmakers about the attack on the US Consulate in Libya, his appearance on Capitol Hill coming one week after he resigned over an extramarital affair.
Petraeus is under investigation by the agency for possible wrongdoing, though that’s not the subject of the closed-door hearings he is set to attend. The September attack in Benghazi, which killed the US ambassador and three other Americans, created a political firestorm, with Republicans claiming that the White House misled the public on what led to the violence.
Lawmakers spent hours on Thursday interviewing top intelligence and national security officials in trying to determine what the intelligence community knew before, during and after the Benghazi attack. They viewed security video from the consulate and surveillance footage by an unarmed CIA Predator drone that showed events in real time.
Petraeus, who will appear first before the House Intelligence Committee and then its Senate counterpart, was expected to provide more details about the US response to the attack.
“Director Petraeus went to Tripoli and interviewed many of the people involved,” Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said.
“I’d like to get his sense of why it took as long as it did to get more accurate assessments of what took place in Benghazi,” said Democrat Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
As for Petraeus testifying after his resignation amid a sex scandal, Schiff said: “He’s a tough individual and I am sure he will handle it to the best of his ability.”
Petraeus has acknowledged an affair with a woman later identified as his biographer, Paula Broadwell. The FBI began investigating the matter last summer, but did not notify the White House or Congress until after the election.
In the course of investigating the Petraeus affair, the FBI uncovered suggestive e-mails between Afghanistan war chief General John Allen and Florida socialite Jill Kelley, both of them married.
Top national security officials trudged to Capitol Hill on Thursday to grapple with fallout from the sex scandal as US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked service chiefs to review ethics training for military officers.
Leading administration officials, meanwhile, met privately with lawmakers for a third straight day to explain how the Petraeus investigation was handled and explore its national security implications. Among those appearing before the House Intelligence Committee were Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell.
Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the committee’s top Democrat, said after the hearing that he was satisfied that the FBI had behaved properly in not notifying the White House or lawmakers about the inquiry sooner, in keeping with post-Watergate rules set up to prevent interference in criminal investigations.
The CIA on Thursday opened an exploratory investigation into Petraeus’ conduct.
At the same time, army officials say that, at this point, there is no appetite for recalling Petraeus to active duty to pursue any adultery charges against him.
Petraeus, in his first media interview since he resigned, told CNN that he had never given classified information to Broadwell.