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The Petraeus Scandal

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Five Questions After Petraeus Hearings

November 18th 2012


The testimony this week of former CIA director David Petraeus left a number of unanswered questions about his resignation and the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Petraeus was grilled by lawmakers behind closed doors on Friday, one week after he resigned as the nation’s top spy over an extra-martial affair he conducted with the author Paula Broadwell.

Lawmakers pressed Petraeus for more information about the Sept. 11 attack in Libya, which the Obama administration initially blamed on an anti-Islam movie before later labeling it terrorist attack. Officials say the early account reflected the intelligence that officials were given by the CIA and other agencies. Democrats and Republicans remained at odds over the Obama administration’s characterization of the attack after being brief by Petraeus, sparking a new round of questions about who in the administration knew what, and when.

Here are five questions that will drive the Petraeus story going forward:

What happened with the Benghazi talking points?
Lawmakers clashed over what Petraeus’s testimony revealed about the intelligence that was provided to Obama officials after the Libya attack. The scrutiny has focused on Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who blamed the assault on a spontaneous protest in multiple television interviews the weekend after it occurred.

According to Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y), Petraeus testified that the CIA labeled the incident terrorism within 24 hours, and that the talking points provided by the CIA were changed by someone in the administration. But Democrats said the testimony they heard cleared the U.N. ambassador, because Petraeus and the CIA signed off on the unclassified talking points that Rice used.

Several Republicans have pointed to Rice’s statements in opposing her as a potential candidate for secretary of State. The fight could easily spill over into a confirmation battle in the Senate if Obama nominates her.

The new information also raises questions about Petraeus’s testimony to Congress three days after the Libya attack, when he briefed the House and Senate with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Petraeus did not emphasize terrorism in Benghazi during that first briefing, according to lawmakers who were present, but on Friday claimed the CIA suspected terrorism from the start.

Will lawmakers investigate the FBI and the Justice Department?
Lawmakers were shocked to discover that the FBI, which is under the Department of Justice (DOJ), had conducted an investigation of the former CIA chief without notifying members of Congress who oversee the intelligence community and the judiciary.

Republicans immediately raised concerns about why news of the investigation — which had been underway for at least three months — became public only after the election.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, have asked the heads of the FBI and DOJ for a timeline of the investigation and when White House officials were told.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees DOJ’s funding, has said he wants Attorney General Eric Holder to testify if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) moves to form a bicameral Select Committee to investigate the attack.

FBI Director Robert Mueller briefed Intelligence Committee members this week in an attempt to smooth relations and bring them up to speed. And Obama — along with the DOJ — have held that the agencies acted in complete accordance with their procedures.

What really happened in Benghazi?
Congress is still trying to determine how the events at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi unfolded on Sept. 11, and what led to the small amount of American security at the outpost. The lack of security at the compound, which had been attacked earlier in the year, is a top concern for members as they pore through documents and cables from State Department officials who were denied more manpower.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has led Congress’ investigation of the security issue so far, but more details are sure to emerge when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appears before the House and Senate foreign relations committees later this year.

The House Intelligence Committee also wants to get to the bottom of the Benghazi security situation. Panel member Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has vowed to press for answers about why it took the U.S. military so long to secure the consulate after the attack, and has questioned why it took the FBI three weeks to begin an on-site investigation.

Will Petraeus have to testify again?
Petraeus was quietly moved in and out of the Capitol with heavy security presence Friday, avoiding the waves of cameras staked out across the complex to try and get a shot of him. But the back-to-back hearings are unlikely to be Petraeus’s last trip to Capitol Hill.

Numerous House and Senate committees are investigating the Benghazi attack, and Petraeus’s role as CIA director during the incident makes him a key witness. His trip to Tripoli after the attack gives him perspective that others, including his successor at the CIA, do not have.

King, who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said that his committee was not planning to get involved, but the Intelligence Committee would continue to investigate. “We’ll see how this evolves,” King said “It’s far from over.”

Other lawmakers who aren’t on the Intelligence Committee have also indicated they want to question Petraeus.

What will the CIA’s investigation of Petraeus find?
The CIA Inspector General said Thursday it was opening an investigation into Petraeus’s conduct over the affair and his resignation. A number of strange details about the affair have emerged in the week since Petraeus resigned, and more revelations are likely.

The possible involvement of Petraeus’s successor in Afghanistan, four-star Gen. John Allen, was perhaps the biggest surprise beyond the initial scandal itself. The FBI turned over 20,000 to 30,000 pages of communications between Allen and the woman who received threatening e-mails from Petraeus’s mistress.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was asked this week if he was concerned any more officials would be drawn into the scandal, which he responded by saying he was not aware of any others “at the present time.”

Petraeus says he divulged no classified information to Broadwell and that his resignation was only as a result of the affair. Allen, who is being investigated by the Defense Department Inspector General, has also denied wrongdoing.

Jeremy Herb and Jordy Yager write for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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