CAPITOL HILL - Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified behind closed doors Friday before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the deadly September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Crowds of reporters and cameras were stationed on both sides of the U.S. Capitol, but Petraeus was completely shielded from view, just one week after he resigned as CIA director because of an extra-marital affair.
The September 11th assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. The government's precautions against such an attack, and its response when the American compound was overrun and burned, is now at the center of an increasingly bitter fight on Capitol Hill between President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies, on the one hand, and congressional Republicans.
Republican Congressman Peter King says the Obama administration's account of the terrorist attack in Benghazi was changed to delete any reference to al-Qaida involvement.
"As far as General Petraeus' testimony today was, that from the start, he had told us that this was a terrorist attack or that there were terrorists involved from the start. I told him in my questioning that I have a very different recollection of that. The clear impression that we were given was that the overwhelming evidence was that it arose out of spontaneous demonstrations," said King.
Shortly after the September attack the Central Intelligence Agency circulated "talking points" about the attack to senior U.S. officials. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, relied on those background notes to discuss the Benghazi attack on television a few days later (September 16). She said the attack most likely grew out of spontaneous Libyan protests against a notorious anti-Muslim video.
Rice has been mentioned unofficially as a possible successor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who intends to leave her post in the coming months. The dispute over what happened in Benghazi has been cited repeatedly by Rice's critics - by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, in particular - who say they do not trust her.
Here is Senator McCain:
"Let's see what... Let's see what happens here. But we will do whatever is necessary to block the nomination that's within our power as far as Susan Rice is concerned," said McCain.
At a news conference this week, the president reacted angrily:
"If Senator McCain and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi and ... to besmirch her reputation, is outrageous," said President Obama.
On Capitol Hill Friday, Democratic women lawmakers gathered to defend Rice against what they described as McCain and Graham's unfair and sexist attacks. Congresswoman Gwen Moore said she realizes some members of the opposition party are disappointed that they lost the presidential election.
"But to batter this woman because they do not feel that they have had the ability to batter President Obama, is something that we, the women, are not going to stand by and watch. Their feckless and reckless speculation is unworthy of their offices as senators," said Moore.
Lawmakers say there will be more hearings on the Benghazi attack, which means there will likely be more partisan fights over what senior administration officials knew about the attacks and when they knew it.
Timeline of the Petraeus Scandal