Lawmakers to press Petraeus on Benghazi

Lawmakers plan to press David Petraeus early Friday morning over the CIA’s investigation of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya during the ex-CIA director’s first Capitol Hill appearance since his shocking resignation. 

Members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees told The Hill they will not ask the former CIA head about the extramarital affair that spurred him to resign last week after it was made public.

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But serious questions have surfaced about whether the CIA should have had more information in the lead-up to the attack, which coincided with the Sept. 11, 2001, anniversary. Petraeus is viewed by many in Congress as holding key insights from his time probing the site in the aftermath of the attack.

“His assessment of what he found on the ground is absolutely crucial to put together, with the other pieces of the puzzle, people’s view of what happened during and after the event,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a member of the Senate Intelligence panel.

Some Republicans have privately expressed their worries to The Hill that the media attention surrounding Petraeus’s resignation could detract from fact-finding efforts aimed at determining what could have been done to prevent the attack and whether the Obama administration is to blame.

And while news of the affair and Petraeus’s departure shocked Capitol Hill and raised concerns about why certain lawmakers were not told about it sooner, the Intelligence panels appear to be doubling down their focus on security at the State Department’s outpost in Benghazi and discovering if anyone is responsible for intelligence-gathering lapses that occurred.

“We’re anxious to fill in and get answers,” said Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, in an interview with CNN after the panel held a three-hour closed hearing with intelligence officials.

“There are still unanswered questions that have to be given to the committee to look at. In the end, we want to provide a factual ... real-time report of exactly what happened. And obviously, people need to take responsibility based on what we come to.”

As Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) left the hearing, he told The Hill that it was “too early to tell” whether there were intelligence failures, but pointed to questions he hoped to pose to Petraeus on Friday about why the CIA and news organizations were able to get raw documents from the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi after the attack, but the FBI took more than three weeks to begin its probe at the site.

“I certainly continue to have a lot of questions about why news agencies have greater access and ability to get information quickly than the FBI had or why Gen. Petraeus was able to get in and investigate in a way that the FBI wasn't,” said Blunt.

Petraeus’s trip to Capitol Hill on Friday is expected to be the public highlight of the panels’ investigation. Dozens of passing congressional staffers, tourists and lobbyists took pictures of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s doors on Thursday, believing Petraeus was inside.

The focus on Petraeus, and the affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, was amplified during the Senate’s hearing Thursday when the CIA revealed that it had launched an “exploratory” investigation of Petraeus’s conduct while at the agency — standard protocol for a situation of this nature.

“At the CIA, we are constantly reviewing our performance,” said CIA spokesman John Tomczyk. “If there are lessons to be learned from this case, we'll use them to improve. But we're not getting ahead of ourselves; an investigation is exploratory and doesn't presuppose any particular outcome."