Morell to testify on Libya attack in place of Petraeus

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee excused Petraeus from testifying on the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, hours after the former four-star general officially resigned as the nation's top spy.

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Morell, who was the agency's No. 2 official, assumed the top spot at CIA after Petraeus stepped down from his post on Friday. 

Petraeus, along with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, National Counterterrorism Center chief Matthew Olsen, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, were set to testify on Nov. 14 before the Senate Intelligence panel on the consulate attack in Benghazi. 

The September attack, in which Libyan militants assaulted the consulate in Benghazi, ended with the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Petraeus, along with other national security officials, were called before Congress to explain the administration's actions during and in the immediate aftermath of that strike.

Petraeus announced his resignation over an extramarital affair in a letter to President Obama released Friday, after telling the president the news on Thursday.

The decision to take the former CIA chief off the witness list comes after panel chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she disagreed with the White House's decision to accept Petraeus's resignation.  

“I wish President Obama had not accepted this resignation, but I understand and respect the decision," Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement issued Friday. 

Petraeus's efforts at the agency and his interactions with Congress was key in "improving American relationships with intelligence agencies in countries around the world," according to Feinstein.  

“At CIA, Director Petraeus gave the agency leadership, stature, prestige and credibility both at home and abroad. On a personal level, I found his command of intelligence issues second to none," she added. 

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), head of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement he also "regretted [Petraeus's] resignation" and commended him as "one of America’s most outstanding and distinguished military leaders." 

Congressional Republicans have mercilessly hammered the White House over its initial claims the attack was the result of an anti-American protest gone violently wrong, only later admitting the strike was the work of Libyan terrorists. 

That discrepancy, along with criticisms over the lackluster response to the attack by the U.S. military forces, prompted some GOP lawmakers to accuse the White House of attempting to cover-up details of the attack. 

But last Thursday, CIA officials pushed back against such claims, admitting that agency officers were deployed to Benghazi within minutes of the attack. 

The CIA team landed at the Benghazi airport after the initial attack, intending to locate Stevens. Once learning the ambassador was dead, the agency team moves to the CIA annex to assist with evacuation.

When the team arrived, mortar rounds began to hit the annex, killing the two security officers. The second attack lasted just 11 minutes, and less than an hour later a Libyan military unit arrived to evacuate the U.S. personnel from Benghazi.

—Jordy Yager contributed to this story.

This story was updated at 5:41 p.m.