Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned as director at the CIA last week, is privately testifying before House and Senate Intelligence Committees today about the Sept. 11 assault on the United States Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
It is Petraeus’ first public (of sorts) appearance since he resigned from the CIA last Friday, citing an extramarital affair with a woman who has been identified as his married biographer, Paula Broadwell. But the questions will likely focus on the Libyan issue, not the affair.
The House’s hearing began at 7:30 a.m. and the Senate hearing was scheduled for 9 a.m.
Petraeus is expected to provide his assessment of the Benghazi attack as well as answer questions about any knowledge the CIA had about the consulate assault and how it was handled.
Four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, died when the consulate came under heavy attack from terrorists who are believed to be al-Qaeda affiliates.
There was misinformation shortly after the attack was carried out about who exactly was responsible. Some in the Obama administration said in the immediate aftermath that the assault was a result of a spontaneous protest against an American-made anti-Islam video, “Innocence of Muslims.”
Obama has said the assault, which is still under FBI investigation, was an act of terror. His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also said terrorists were at fault, but this ran contrary to the “spontaneous attack” claims U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice made on several Sunday talk shows.
The confusion sparked speculations among several Republicans – even presidential candidate Mitt Romney – that the Obama administration was covering up an act of terrorism.
It has also once more pitted the president against his 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain, who publicly said there’s either some “cover-up” taking place or “incompetence.”
McCain wants answers on why the U.S. wasn’t prepared for the attacks when there were several incidents months prior that should’ve provided warning.
The big questions at this point is: What did intelligence officials know and when did they know it?
“I learned something the day that it happened,” McCain told MSNBC. “I know that people don’t come to spontaneous demonstrations with rockets and mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and heavy weapons. I knew that at the time.
“And for the president of the United States for two weeks afterwards, to deny that was the case is either a cover-up or it is incompetence,” he added. “ Either of the two.”
Obama did stand in the Rose Garden the day after the attack and said, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
In late October, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice didn’t seek to blame the White House or the Obama administration, but declared on Fox News that it was hard to know the facts in a “fog of war.”
She stressed that it was best to let the investigation take its course.
“You can’t simply keep your diplomats in a bunker,” Rice said. “They have to get out and do their work. But you want to make certain you are taking the right safety precautions for them as well and that’s the kind of work the accountability review board will do. But there are protocols in place. I have no reason to believe that they weren’t followed. It is not very easy in circumstances like this to know precisely what’s going on as it’s unfolding.”
Rice told Greta Van Susteren that the important question at this point was how the information was collected, and whether the various agencies coordinate and share intelligence as they are supposed to do with the reforms made after the 2001 attacks on American soil.
But until those questions and all the others are answered, Obama warned critics of Ambassador Rice – “McCain and Sen. Graham and others” – that if they “want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous.”