David Petraeus’s abrupt resignation as CIA director Friday over an extramarital affair is unlikely to spare him the glare of congressional testimony, which he had been scheduled for this week.
Indeed, Mr. Petraeus, a retired four-star general, may still be summoned by Congress to testify at some point on the Central Intelligence Agency’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Not only that, but now, members of Congress are saying they also want to know how Petraeus’s affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, may have compromised aspects of national security and intelligence.
Questions about the possible intelligence and national-security ramifications of Petraeus’s dalliances gained in urgency after it was revealed that Ms. Broadwell, a West Point graduate who is married and has two children, offered up what appears to have been undisclosed information in a speech last month at the University of Denver, where she earned a master’s degree.
In the Oct. 26 speech, Broadwell seemed to offer some salient tidbits about the circumstances of the attack by Islamist extremists on the US Consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including US Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and two CIA contractors. She spoke of the response of the CIA annex in Benghazi – whose existence had only been made public Oct. 21 in a CIA background briefing with reporters – and suggested she had information that was not widely known.
“Now, I don’t know if a lot of you heard this, but the CIA annex had actually ... taken a couple of Libyan militia members prisoner, and they think that the attack on the consulate was an effort to try to get these prisoners back,” she said.
The CIA is denying that prisoners were held at their annex, which ostensibly was set up as part of the US effort to locate and seize the thousands of “loose” sophisticated weapons, including shoulder-fired missiles, floating around Libya after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi. But other official sources say on background that the CIA’s Benghazi operation actually dwarfed the consulate, located a mile away, and had occasionally held jihadist suspects from Libya and other parts of North Africa.
Broadwell also suggests in her Denver speech that Petraeus knew almost immediately that the Benghazi assault was a terrorist attack, even though Petraeus would testify to members of Congress in a closed session a few days after the attack that it was in large part the result of ire over an anti-Islam video that had touched off anti-US demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere.
So did Petraeus mislead members of Congress? That is just one of many questions that a number of senators and members of the House say they expect to have for the former CIA director even after hearings this week that will now be attended by Michael Morell, acting CIA director.
Mr. Morell – a career intelligence officer who already last year briefly took on the “acting director” role after Leon Panetta’s departure for the Pentagon – is scheduled to discuss the investigation that led to Petraeus’s resignation with members of Congress on Wednesday. Also expected to attend that hearing is FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce, since it was an FBI investigation that first turned up evidence of Petraeus's affair – reportedly several months ago. Members of Congress want to know why the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not inform them of a potential national security breach earlier.
On Thursday, Morell is set to testify before Senate and House intelligence committees on the CIA’s role in responding to the Benghazi attack.
But many members of Congress say they are still likely to demand an appearance by Petraeus before too long. Calling Petraeus’s testimony “essential” to the Benghazi investigation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” "I don't see how in the world you can find out what happened in Benghazi before, during, and after the attack if General Petraeus doesn't testify."