David Petraeus faces US Congress over attack on consulate in Libya

Ex-CIA director appears before lawmakers for first time since sex scandal led to his downfall

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 November, 2012, 2:41am

Former CIA director David Petraeus said yesterday he believed all along that the deadly September 11 assault on the US consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack, a lawmaker said, as the ex-general faced Congress for the first time since he resigned over an extra-marital affair.

Congressman Peter King said Petraeus focused his remarks on the Libya attack, which killed the US ambassador, during the closed-door hearing. Republicans have claimed that the White House misled the public on what led to the violence by blaming it at first on protests over an anti-Muslim film produced in the US.

Lawmakers said Petraeus told them that CIA talking points written after the attack in Benghazi referred to it as a terrorist attack. But he said the reference was removed by other agencies that made changes to the CIA's draft.

The retired four-star general, once one of the country's most respected military leaders, entered the Capitol through a network of underground hallways, away from the media.

Petraeus is under investigation by the CIA for possible wrongdoing in his affair, though that was not the subject of yesterday's hearings. He made no comment on the affair to lawmakers, but he did say it would have no impact on his testimony when asked, King said.

As for the attack, "He was definitely fully aware of what was going on," King said.

Five days after the attack, the White House sent UN Ambassador Susan Rice on Sunday news shows to describe it as a spontaneous protest over the anti-Muslim video. Rice relied on initial intelligence that proved incorrect is now under attack by some Republican senators who have vowed to block her if she is nominated as secretary of state when Hillary Rodham Clinton steps down from the position.

Lawmakers have been interviewing top intelligence and national security officials in trying to determine what the intelligence community knew before, during and after the attack. They viewed security video from the consulate and surveillance footage by an unarmed CIA Predator drone.

Petraeus appeared before the House Intelligence Committee and its Senate counterpart.

"Director Petraeus went to Tripoli and interviewed many of the people involved," said Dianne Feinstein, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

As for Petraeus testifying shortly after his resignation amid the sex scandal, Democratic lawmaker Adam Schiff, a member of the House committee, said: "He's a tough individual and I am sure he will handle it."

Petraeus has acknowledged an affair with a woman later identified as his biographer.