Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified Friday morning that the CIA knew that the Benghazi attacks were a terrorist attack and not a spontaneous demonstration, and he denied that his sensational extramarital affair had any impact on his testimony.
Appearing before Congress for the first time since the sex scandal ended his career, Petraeus tried to explain the discrepancy between Obama administration officials' initial public statements declaring that the Benghazi attacks were part of a demonstration and not a terrorist attack.
"Now, he clearly believes that it did not arise out of a demonstration," said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) "It was not spontaneous, and [there was] clear terrorist involvement."
Petraeus was asked early on about his affair with Paula Broadwell, according to lawmakers who provided accounts of the closed hearing. He insisted that the dalliance with his biographer did not influence his testimony, and that was the only time the topic came up.
"We made clear at the start that that would not be the focus of his questioning," said King."I would say 10 seconds into it, that was off to the side."
"There may have been confusion with the unclassified talking points. ... Perhaps there's greater clarity in the classified talking points," Langevin told reporters. "There were perhaps some subtleties that were used that may have been understood by some to mean one thing, where others may have had a different understanding of words -- for example, 'extremist' versus 'terrorist.'"
Petraeus told lawmakers the CIA believed it to be a terrorist attack from the beginning.
"I told him in my questions that I had a very different recollection of that," said King , the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the Intelligence Committee. "The clear impression was given was that the overwhelming amount of evidence was that it rose out of a spontaneous demonstration and it was not a terrorist attack."
That account differed from that of Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who said Petraeus "reinforced" the belief among CIA officials in the 24 hours after the attack that it was the result of the demonstration.
"He clarified that after more information came in, that it was not a protest," Ruppersberger told reporters.
Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) defended U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's initial report that the attack in Benghazi was the result of spontaneous violence because that was the unclassified version of the intelligence community's understanding of events.
"The confusion arises between the difference between what is classified and unclassified... What is classified cannot be discussed publicly because it would reveal, potentially, the sources and methods used to gather intelligence," Conrad said after a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Petraeus following the House one.
"The notes that Ambassador Rice were speaking from were in an unclassified setting... She did entirely the responsible thing by answering questions based on what was unclassified and agreed to by the entire the entire intelligence committee as reflecting their unclassified views at the moment she used those talking points," Conrad added.
Petraeus showed up with little fanfare, with only a congressional aide informing the press of his arrival. He was not seen by the media. The former general's first stop was at a 7:30 a.m. hearing before members of the House Intelligence Committee. He was then scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee 90 minutes later. King said an official oath was not administered to Petraeus, but it would be a felony to lie to Congress.
One lawmaker said he didn't detect any outward signs of weariness from Petraeus, who has been publicly engulfed by the fallout from his affair and resignation over the last week.
"He was a strong soldier ... he was very professional, very knowledgeable," King said. "You know, I consider him a friend, which made the questioning tough, to be honest with you.
Petraeus stepped down from the CIA last week after he admitted to cheating on his wife, Holly, of 37 years. The four-star general carried on an affair with Broadwell, a disclosure that came only because Broadwell allegedly sent harassing emails to another woman, Jill Kelley, who then took those complaints straight to the FBI.
The announcement came just six days before Petraeus was scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill on the attacks, which killed Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three diplomatic officials. Though acting CIA Director Michael Morell quickly assumed Petraeus's duties, lawmakers began insisting almost immediately after the resignation that the former general still needed to appear before Congress.
Petraeus had also traveled to Libya to investigate the attacks, and lawmakers said they were entitled to view the former general's findings from that trip. A major issue Petraeus is expected to address is why he initially told lawmakers that the attack appeared to begin as a spontaneous protest to the anti-Islam film. He had given members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that explanation in briefings soon after the attack.
In his first public comments since his resignation statement, Petraeus said his decision to step down from the CIA had nothing to do with his investigation into the Benghazi attacks nor his testimony to Congress.
"[He] has made it very clear that this was about an extramarital affair and not over classified information or Benghazi," Kyra Phillips, a reporter for CNN Headline News who has spoken with Petraeus, said Thursday.
Before his spectacular fall from grace, Petraeus was a popular and much-respected figure in Congress. His confirmation as CIA chief flew through the Senate with no opposition, and key lawmakers serving on intelligence panels credited Petraeus for his open lines of communication with Capitol Hill.
But his abrupt resignation and stunning revelation of his extramarital affair fueled an already political and tense congressional battle over the Benghazi assault, which occurred on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Hill Republicans have, in particular, keyed in on the Obama administration's shifting explanations for the cause of the attack, which officials initially called a "spontaneous" reaction to an anti-Islam film on YouTube, as well as the security situation at the consulate.
Top lawmakers emphasized Thursday that their questions for Petraeus would focus on the attacks at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, not on his affair.
"We're not going into the FBI investigation, or the inspector general, or anything else," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters Thursday evening. "This is Benghazi."
Petraeus's appearance before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees came one day after the two panels separately heard testimony in sessions that spanned several hours each. In addition to Morell, the committees heard testimony from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy, FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen.
Friday's twin hearings also came as the CIA launched its own internal review, to be conducted by its inspector general, into the situation that triggered Petraeus's resignation. A separate Pentagon probe is investigating Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan who reportedly sent reams of "potentially inappropriate" emails to Kelley.
More congressional hearings on Benghazi are already on tap.
"In any complex scenario like this, you can't get all the complex answers in one hearing," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. "That's why we've got two already set, and we know at least one more after that. So are there still questions out there? You bet. And we're going to continue to work to get those answered."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will also testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in December; it hasn't been determined yet whether that hearing will be open to the public.
Tim Mak, Scott Wong and Leigh Munsil contributed to this report.
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