By Jeremy Herb - 11/15/12 01:04 AM EST
Former CIA Director David Petraeus agreed to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence committees on the Benghazi attack this week, despite his resignation from the agency over an extramarital affair.
Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Petraeus would voluntarily come before the panel in a closed-door session to discuss the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya and noted that the hearing would not address his affair.
The House Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday evening that Petraeus would be testifying on Benghazi Friday morning in a closed hearing.
He was slated to come before the committee on Thursday with other top-ranking intelligence officials, but now Petraeus’s successor, acting CIA Director Michael Morell, is scheduled to testify in his place.
“He’s eager and willing to come before the Intelligence Committee,” Feinstein said Wednesday, declining to say when Petraeus would testify.
Petraeus’s decision to head to Capitol Hill comes after lawmakers from both parties called for the former director’s testimony on the attack, in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
He was supposed to be one of the key witnesses in a slew of Benghazi hearings this week, but his resignation had put that on hold.
The clamor over Petraeus’s testimony after he resigned amid a scandal less than a week ago highlights the desire in Congress — particularly among Republicans — to continue probing the circumstances surrounding Benghazi attack, which had turned into a political issue before the election.
Lawmakers have pressed for information about the administration’s shifting story on the Benghazi attack; administration officials first said the attack on the U.S. consulate was the result of a spontaneous protest, and not a planned terrorist attack.
“He was the principal in charge of the CIA, so I think that it’s clear we should hear directly from the key decisionmaker on what intelligence we had in advance in terms of the attacks on the consulate,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) told The Hill.
Even if Petraeus does not testify Thursday, both the House and Senate Intelligence committees are holding closed hearings on Benghazi with high-level intelligence officials. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had a closed briefing Tuesday, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee has an open hearing Thursday.
Three Republicans, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ayotte, pushed the congressional inquiries a step further Wednesday, introducing a resolution to create a select committee on Benghazi that would be similar to the Watergate and Iran-Contra congressional investigations.
The lawmakers, who are all on the Armed Services Committee, also suggested that Petraeus’s testimony to the Intelligence Committee might not be his last.
“I’d like to ask Gen. Petraeus some questions,” Graham said.
McCain said that Petraeus would be a “very important witness” for a select committee on Benghazi.
But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not endorse the idea of a select committee when asked about it Wednesday.
“At this point, I think that the standing committees of the House, whether they be the Oversight Committee or the Intelligence Committee, are working diligently on these issues,” Boehner said. “And at this point, I think that’s appropriate.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters no when asked about establishing the committee.
President Obama defended his administration’s investigation into the Benghazi attacks in response to a question on the select committee proposal at his press conference Wednesday, as he lashed out at the senators for criticizing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice over her comments on the issue.
“We have provided every bit of information that we have and we will continue to provide information,” Obama said. “And we’ve got a full-blown investigation, and all that information will be disgorged to Congress.
“If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me,” Obama said.
Graham and McCain responded by saying that they held Obama responsible for what happened in Benghazi, even if they were critical of Rice, too.
“Mr. President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi,” Graham said in a statement. “I think you failed as commander in chief before, during and after the attack.”
As Congress presses the administration on Benghazi, Feinstein and others have also indicated they are looking at investigating the FBI probe of the Petraeus affair.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he expected the Petraeus resignation to be a topic during the committee’s briefing on Libya on Thursday.
Obama said Wednesday at his press conference that he had seen no evidence at this point that classified information was disclosed or that national security was harmed due to the Petraeus affair.
The president said he wanted to emphasize that Petraeus had an “extraordinary” career serving the country in Iraq, Afghanistan and the CIA.
“We are safer because of the work that Dave Petraeus has done,” Obama said. “And my main hope right now is that he and his family are able to move on and that this ends up being a single side-note on what has otherwise been an extraordinary career.”