National Security

Petraeus appears at Benghazi panel

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Former CIA Director David Petraeus on Wednesday appeared before the House Select Committee on Benghazi for a four-hour interview as Republican committee leaders narrow in on their final weeks of interviews.  

The retired Army general will return to answer additional questions on an undetermined date in the coming days, committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said.

“We’re going to get back together,” Gowdy said.

“He’s a really important witness,” Gowdy added, without going into detail about the unanswered questions. “He’s willing to answer more questions, and we have more questions.

“That’s a good combination, when you have more questions and the witness is willing to answer them.”

Petraeus, who is one of the highest-profile former government officials to have appeared before the panel, brushed past reporters without comment after his interview on Wednesday.

The Benghazi committee appears to be closing in on the homestretch of its work amid repeated attacks from Democrats, who say the investigation has gone on for too long.

Democrats, who fought the creation of the panel from the start, on Wednesday highlighted that the 9/11 Commission took less time than the Benghazi panel to release its final report.

Gowdy promised reporters that the investigation is nearing the finish line.

Within the next month, he predicted, lawmakers would conduct their final dozen or so interviews. Then, they should begin work on a final report about the 2012 terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans and is a flashpoint in the presidential race.

“We are just as anxious to wrap up our work as you are,” Gowdy told reporters before Wednesday’s session.

The extended delay, he said, was due to vigorous opposition from committee Democrats — who have vocally protested the panel’s existence — and the Obama administration’s reluctance to hand over documents. The committee is still waiting on information from the CIA, White House and State Department, Gowdy said.

“You have a choice: You can either issue a report that’s incomplete because you don’t have all the documents [or] you can wait and put up with the criticism of how long it’s taking until you do have all the documents,” he added. “And I have accepted the reality that we’re going to be criticized no matter what we do, so we might as well provide a complete and exhaustive report.”

Petraeus served as director of the CIA during the 2012 attacks but resigned shortly afterward amid the fallout from an extramarital affair. Last year, he pleaded guilty to one charge of mishandling classified material for leaking government secrets to his mistress, biographer Paula Broadwell.  

That legal trouble was one reason why Petraeus could not appear before the committee until Wednesday, Gowdy said.

“There’s no lawyer in the world that will allow his client to be interviewed by a congressional committee while you have pending criminal charges,” he said. “That would frankly be legal malpractice had his attorney allowed him to do that.”

Among the roughly 12 more interviews the panel has scheduled in the next two weeks is former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who is expected to answer questions behind closed doors on Friday.

President Obama’s national security adviser Susan Rice and top aide Ben Rhodes are also on tap to testify at some point soon, Gowdy said.

“They have not indicated they will not be here,” he said.

Gowdy said the schedule could change based upon revelations that may come up during future interviews or unforeseen events.

Even if the panel begins to write its report next month, however, it could be months before the full analysis is released.

Democrats portray the lengthy process as further proof that the committee was created to hurt the presidential run of Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of State at the time of the assault.

“This is being dragged to get as close to the election process as possible. That’s very, very unfortunate,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the committee’s top Democrat, said before entering the meeting with Petraeus.

Committee Republicans have repeatedly declined to discuss their findings about Benghazi before the completion of their report, even as Democrats assert that the “charade” has failed to yield new information.

Petraeus’s answers were “completely consistent with what we have concluded in now eight separate investigations,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the committee who has also investigated the 2012 Benghazi attacks through his role on the House Intelligence Committee.

“I’m not sure why, in fact, it was necessary to bring the general back again, but perhaps it was to give the appearance that this select committee is about something apart from Secretary Clinton.”

This story was updated at 8:30 p.m.

Tags David Petraeus Trey Gowdy United States House Select Committee on Benghazi
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