WASHINGTON - Former CIA Director David Petraeus was facing lawmakers' questions Friday about the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, just one week after he resigned over an extramarital affair.
The retired general is under investigation by the agency for possible wrongdoing in the affair, though that's not the subject of the closed-door hearings. The Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, created a political firestorm, with Republicans claiming that the White House misled the public on what led to the violence.
Five days after the attack, the administration sent U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on the Sunday news shows to describe it as a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. Rice relied on initial intelligence that proved incorrect, and she's now under attack by some Republican senators who vow to block her if she's nominated as secretary of state when Hillary Rodham Clinton steps down.
Lawmakers spent hours Thursday interviewing top intelligence and national security officials in trying to determine what the intelligence community knew before, during and after the Benghazi attack. They viewed security video from the consulate and surveillance footage by an unarmed CIA Predator drone that showed events in real time.
Petraeus was appearing first before the House Intelligence Committee on Friday and then its Senate counterpart and was expected to provide more details about the U.S. response.
"Director Petraeus went to Tripoli and interviewed many of the people involved," said Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein.
"I'd like to get his sense of why it took as long as it did to get more accurate assessments of what took place in Benghazi," said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
As for Petraeus testifying shortly after his resignation amid a sex scandal, Schiff said, "He's a tough individual, and I am sure he will handle it to the best of his ability."
Petraeus has acknowledged an extramarital affair with a woman later identified as his biographer, the married Paula Broadwell. The resignation of the former U.S. commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan stunned Washington, which once had buzzed with talk about a possible run for president in his future.
The FBI began investigating the matter last summer but didn't notify the White House or Congress until after the Nov. 6 election.
In the course of investigating the Petraeus affair, the FBI uncovered suggestive emails between Afghanistan war chief Gen. John Allen and Florida socialite Jill Kelley, both of them married. President Barack Obama has put Allen's promotion nomination on hold.
Top national security officials were on Capitol Hill on Thursday to grapple with fallout from the sex scandal as Defence Secretary Leon Panetta asked service chiefs to review ethics training for military officers.
Lawmakers went forward with a hearing on the nomination of Gen. Joseph Dunford to replace Allen in Afghanistan. But with Allen's own future uncertain, they put off consideration of his promotion to U.S. European Command chief and NATO supreme allied commander. Allen had initially been scheduled to testify.
Leading administration officials, meanwhile, met privately with lawmakers for a third straight day to explain how the Petraeus investigation was handled and explore its national security implications. Among those appearing before the House Intelligence Committee were Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Acting CIA Director Michael Morell.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, the committee's top Democrat, said after the hearing that he was satisfied that the FBI had behaved properly in not notifying the White House or lawmakers about the inquiry sooner, in keeping with rules set up to prevent interference in criminal investigations.
The CIA on Thursday opened an exploratory investigation into Petraeus' conduct. The inquiry "doesn't presuppose any particular outcome," said CIA spokesman Preston Golson.
Petraeus, in his first media interview since he resigned, told CNN that he had never given classified information to Broadwell. The general's biographer also has said she didn't receive such material from Petraeus.
But the FBI found a substantial number of classified documents on Broadwell's computer and in her home, according to a law enforcement official, and is investigating how she got them. That official spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. The Army has suspended her security clearance.
Associated Press writers Adam Goldman, Lolita C. Baldor, Pete Yost, Donna Cassata and Robert Burns contributed to this report.