Now that former CIA Director David Petraeus has agreed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee, his words immediately become the focus of the congressional investigation into the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
Congressional intelligence committees will hold closed-door hearings Thursday about the attack, and are set to hear from acting CIA Director Michael Morell and other Obama administration intelligence officials. Mr. Petraeus had been slated to appear at those hearings until he abruptly resigned as CIA chief on Friday over an extramarital affair.
It was not clear Wednesday morning if Petraeus would take part in the Thursday hearings or testify at a separate meeting, perhaps Friday. But it is clear that Petraeus is the one from whom congressional leaders want to hear.
Even before Petraeus's resignation, there were plenty of unanswered questions about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi and the response of the Obama administration and the CIA. Congressional intelligence leaders see Petraeus as central to getting to the bottom of the Benghazi attack, especially now that it is known that CIA operations in Benghazi dwarfed those of the small and thinly protected consulate, that two of the four Americans killed in the assault were CIA contractors, and that Petraeus was embroiled in an investigation into an extramarital affair even as a separate probe into the Benghazi attack heated up.
Congressional leaders believe Petraeus holds the key to several unanswered questions, among them:
• Why, nearly a week after the attack, did the CIA provide senior administration officials with talking points that portrayed the Benghazi incident as a spontaneous attack fueled by an anti-Islam video?
• Why was the consulate so unprotected and so poorly guarded, when the CIA had an “annex” manned by dozens of agents less than a mile away?
• What did Petraeus learn from a late-October trip to Libya, and why has the report he is said to have written after the trip not been made available to congressional intelligence leaders?
• Did Petraeus’s affair with his biographer, and then the complications of an FBI investigation, ever pose a national security threat or in any way have an impact on the CIA’s response to the Benghazi attack?
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein of California said Wednesday Petraeus “is very willing and interested in talking” to congressional intelligence committees, although she said the timing of his testimony is not set.
Senator Feinstein is among a number of US lawmakers who have said Petraeus’s testimony on Benghazi is so important that he might be subpoenaed if he did not volunteer to testify.