Lawmakers turn up heat on FBI over investigation of Petraeus

Senior lawmakers on Monday sharpened their criticism of the FBI over its handling of the investigation that led to the resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus.

The lawmakers questioned how FBI officials began an investigation into Petraeus and yet did not inform the congressional Intelligence Committee heads — or President Obama — that such a high-level probe was under way.

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Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the FBI made a mistake by not alerting Congress or the White House of the investigation, and said her committee would launch an investigation into the FBI’s “puzzling” actions.

The chairwoman also said she was perplexed to learn that other lawmakers outside the Intelligence panels — including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) — learned of the affair and investigation before Obama or the Intelligence heads.

“My concern has actually escalated over the last few days,” Feinstein said in an interview Monday with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell. “You can’t keep these things from the people who hold the responsibility for oversight.”

Of Cantor and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) learning of the FBI probe before Obama and lawmakers on the Intelligence panels, she said, “That shouldn’t happen, and we need to get to the bottom of it” but added that she didn’t want to pre-judge what had occurred. 

The details surrounding the FBI’s probe of Petraeus have the makings for a ripe congressional investigation. In the past, Congress has not responded kindly to being kept in the dark about homeland security and intelligence matters.

The House Intelligence Committee has already moved on the issue. Lawmakers are bringing in FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and acting CIA Director Michael Morell for a briefing on the Petraeus investigation on Wednesday, committee aides said.

One committee source said that the panel wants to hear from the FBI and CIA directly before it decides to go forward with a full investigation.

Petraeus’s shocking resignation on Friday, in which he admitted to an extramarital affair, has sparked a new wave of questions over how the affair was uncovered.

The FBI investigation began with a probe into threatening emails sent to Jill Kelley, a friend of Petraeus and his wife. That, in turn, led the FBI to uncover an affair between Petraeus and his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

But the investigation reportedly stayed within the FBI and Justice Department until Election Day, when Director of National Intelligence James Clapper was notified. Obama was informed on Thursday — two days after he won a second term — and the congressional committees were told just before the resignation went public on Friday.

Law enforcement officials told ABC News that the White House and congressional leaders were not informed earlier because the agency considered the findings to be the result of a criminal investigation that failed to reach the threshold of an intelligence probe.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized the FBI for not alerting the congressional Intelligence panels of what had happened. 

“To have someone out there in such a sensitive position who perhaps the FBI thought could have been compromised or was under the scope of the FBI investigation who may or may not have been having an affair at the time, that certainly had to have been brought to the president or National Security Council,” House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Pete King (R-N.Y.) said Monday.

He said the president was “owed that information.”

King also focused his attention on whether the FBI had a warrant to intercept Petraeus’s personal emails for as long as it did. 

“The idea that the FBI read the CIA director’s personal emails for months, absent any crime or intelligence threat, with a judge’s permission, but without telling the White House or Congress, seems implausible,” wrote King, in an op-ed published by the New York Daily News on Monday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the most liberal members of the upper chamber, also said Congress should have been informed.

“They should have been told,” Sanders said on MSNBC.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, might also be toying with the idea of launching an investigation. His office declined to comment for this article. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who sits on the panel, warned his colleagues of attempting to politicize the issue.

“I think we ought to all take a deep breath, and certainly we need to make sure that there were no security implications or that there was any kind of an issue with coordination between two very important security agencies. But other than that, you know, any rush to make a grandstand theater out of this, I think, is a real mistake,” said Yarmuth in an interview with MSNBC on Monday. 

Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the respective chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which could launch probes on the issue, did not comment for this article.

Petraeus’s resignation came amid political controversy over the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others dead. Two of the Americans killed were contractors working for the CIA. 

Feinstein said she had no reason to believe that Petraeus’s resignation was tied to the Benghazi attack, but added that the topic would still need to be investigated. 

“I’ve seen none so far,” Feinstein told Mitchell of a potential Benghazi connection. “As I’ve said, the skin of the onion is getting peeled off, and we don’t know what we may find.”

When Feinstein’s committee holds a closed hearing on Benghazi on Thursday, Petraeus will not be testifying, the chairwoman confirmed Monday. But she said she had “no doubt” Petraeus would still come before the panel at some point. 

Feinstein also said she is seeking a trip report about Petraeus’s recent visit to Libya. 

The involvement of the CIA at the Benghazi compound could further intertwine the Petraeus and Benghazi investigations. 

Feinstein threatened to issue a subpoena to secure a copy of the trip report. “We are entitled to this trip report, and if we have to go to the floor of the Senate to get one, we will do just that,” she said.

King, who called the Petraeus resignation a crisis “of major proportion,” has also called on the former CIA director to testify over Benghazi.

“We need answers from David Petraeus, the FBI and the White House — about Benghazi, and now also about this sad, strange end to a fine man’s career,” King said.

— Updated at 8:04 p.m.