Petraeus resignation could fuel further GOP attacks on Libya

Petraeus, who left his post as the nation's top spy last Friday after admitting to an extramarital affair, was scheduled to testify before Congress this week on the White House's response to the consulate strike. 

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Acting CIA Director Mike Morell will replace Petraeus in the witness seat as lawmakers struggle to find out what led up to the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead. 

The Petraeus announcement last Friday coincided with the Pentagon's release of its timeline of events on the Benghazi raid. 

"There are lots of questions to be answered regarding timing of the announcement," one former senior military official told The Hill on Monday. 

The official, however, declined to go into details on what impact it might have on Capitol Hill regarding their assessment of the Pentagon's timeline.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says her committee will investigate the FBI’s discovery of the Petraeus affair. She criticized the FBI on Monday for not alerting Congress and the White House sooner that the CIA director was being investigated.

That said, the resignation has not had any immediate effect on lawmakers' assessment of DOD's account of the attack, according to one Republican aide. But that could change as details surrounding the former four-star's resignation and his role in the response to the consulate attack continue to emerge, the aide said. 

"There were questions enough" on DOD's account of the attack even before Petraeus decided to step down as CIA director, the GOP aide added.  

But as lawmakers continue to plow through the numerous accounts of the Libya raid by DOD, CIA and the State Department, "I think members will have an opportunity to get their questions answered" on what effect Petraeus's resignation might have on the perceived validity of those accounts, a House Democratic staffer said Monday. 

The Pentagon's version of the consulate attack "confirms what we already knew," Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said in a statement released last Friday. 

DOD's account also "fails to address the most important question" as to why security measures were not bolstered at the Libya consulate, despite intelligence reports indicating a high risk for attack due to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. 

In response, a DOD official told reporters last Friday the department was inundated with hundreds of reports of potential attacks against U.S. installations across the globe. 

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also noted a U.S. unmanned surveillance drone was flying above the Benghazi consulate at the time of the attack, and was replaced by a second intelligence drone during the assault. 

Despite that fact, the official reiterated there was "no specific or credible threat" to the consulate in Benghazi prior to the strike. 

Roughly two hours after initial reports of the Libya attack began to filter into Washington, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave a verbal order to deploy two U.S. special operations units and two Marine Corps Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST) to Benghazi, according to the timeline. 

The official DOD order to move the FAST units and special operations teams into position was handed down at 2:53 a.m., Libya time, on Sept. 11. according to the timeline. 

One special operations team was already on a training mission in Central Europe at the time of the attack. The second team was flown in from Fort Bragg, N.C., to a staging base in southern Europe. 

Both FAST units were already positioned at the U.S. and NATO naval base in Rota, Spain, when they got the order from Panetta to move. 

On Sept. 12, one of the two FAST units arrived in Tripoli to provide security to the U.S. Embassy there, the DOD timeline states. The Pentagon official last Friday would not comment as to why the second FAST unit initially activated was waived off the response mission. 

That same day, the two special operations units arrived at an "intermediate staging base" in southern Europe, the timeline states. 

The Pentagon official refused to comment on when the special operations units arrived in Libya, noting the military does to provide those kinds of details regarding classified or covert operations.