Lawmakers were shown surveillance video and footage from a Predator drone that gave a real-time picture of what happened the night of Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya, as the House and Senate Intelligence committees began inquiries into the attack Thursday.
The committees’ highest-profile witness, former CIA Director David Petraeus, isn’t coming to Capitol Hill until Friday. But the committees each held a lengthy hearing on Benghazi Thursday with several senior intelligence officials, including acting CIA Director Michael Morell stepping in for Petraeus.
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said after their hearing concluded that they will hold at least an additional two closed-door Benghazi hearings as well as a public hearing to release their findings.
“In any complex scenario like this, you can’t get all the questions answered,” Chambliss told reporters. “Are there still questions out there? You bet.”
“We’re going to continue to do so and plow through this until we believe have enough information to make some findings,” Feinstein said.
The chairwoman described the video shown to lawmakers as a composite from a number of sources. She said it began before the incident started, and goes through the attack and the exodus.
Feinstein and other lawmakers would not comment on some of the specifics in the video, as it was shown in a classified setting, but it likely shed light on how the attack matches up with the Obama administration’s version of events.
Republicans have criticized the administration for shifting its story from saying the attack was sparked by a spontaneous protest to being a planned terrorist attack.
The administration has said that its public statements were based on the intelligence available at the time, which had initially pointed to the protest.
The administration’s protest story has become particularly pointed around U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, who was on the Sunday talk shows discussing the protest the week after the attack.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), an ex officio member of the committee, said afterward that his opinion about what happened with Rice hadn’t changed because she was relying on unclassified talking points.
"The public talking points Ambassador Rice spoke on that Sunday speak for themselves,” Levin said. “Those are the talking points, those are unclassified, that's what she said. I thought that going in, and I haven't changed anything since.”
Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said that the hearing included a discussion of “the development of the unclassified briefing documents,” which he said “was very significant.”
“I think there will be a lot more question about that,” he said.
Blunt said it was “too early to tell” if there were intelligence failures.
Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) said after Thursday’s House hearing that he is convinced that security at the U.S. Consulate was lacking in the lead-up to the attack, but he stopped short of placing blame on any one agency or official.
Asked whether he learned anything at the hearing about an intelligence failure or whether there should have been warning signs of an impending attack, Rooney stressed that any anniversary of Sept. 11 should be sufficient warning to heighten security measures.
“We know mistakes were made and we’ve got to learn from that,” Chambliss said. “Our membership asked some very hard and very tough questions of our witnesses today, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
The two hearings led to a long day of questioning for the lawmakers, but especially the witnesses: Morell, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, Under Secretary of State for Management Pat Kennedy and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen.
Their day began at 10 a.m. with the House Intelligence Committee, where the hearing lasted until about 1:15 p.m.
The Senate Intelligence hearing lasted even longer, which got under way a little after 2 p.m. and didn’t conclude until after 6 p.m.
Both committees will be back at it Friday with Petraeus, who is making his first public appearance since resigning last week. He will be meeting with the House Intelligence Committee at 7:30 a.m. and the Senate at 9 a.m.
That hearing will only focus on Libya and not the scandal that led to his resignation, Feinstein said.
“Director Petraeus went to Tripoli. He interviewed many of the people as I understand it that were involved,” she said. “So the opportunity to get his views I think is very important.”