David Petraeus Secretly Testifies to Congress About Benghazi

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Former CIA director David Petraeus snuck into the sub-basement of the Capitol building today to testify in front of two closed-door Congressional hearings about what he and his agency knew about the Benghazi embassy attacks. The media was not allowed to see Petraeus enter and the hearings are mostly classified, but some of the Congress members who were present gave some sense of the testimony.

Rep. Peter King of New York gave a brief press conference after the House intelligence committee adjourned. He said the Petraeus testified that the CIA believes from the very beginning that "al-Qeada affiliated" terrorists were behind the attack and also that this was the assessment he gave House members during his original briefing on the matter in September. However, King said he called out Petraeus on that point, stating "I had different recollection" of the September 14 briefing, and Petraeus downplayed the involvement of terrorists at the time. That suggests Petraeus might have changed his story, perhaps to fit more closely with the White House's version of events.

There was also discussion of the now notorious CIA "talking points" that were distributed to various government officials a few days after the attacks. Those talking points were given to both UN Ambassador Susan Rice and the House intelligence committee, and they downplayed the idea that terrorist were involved in the attack. That is supposedly what led Rice to say on TV that the attack was likely the result of a "spontaneous" demonstration in response to an anti-Islamic video.

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Petraeus apparently claimed during his testimony today, that an earlier version of the talking points prepared by the CIA referenced al-Qaeda (conforming to his assessment), but that after the talking points went through the usual vetting process—which includes input from other intelligence agencies—those references were removed before the document was officially released. Petraeus told the committee he didn't know who made the changes or who distributed the final version to Ambassador Rice and the committee. It's that discrepancy between what the Petraeus says he and the CIA believed, and what the administration was saying publicly, that is now the curx of the controversy.

King also said the testimony was cordial, Petraeus behaved like "a strong solider" and there were no questions about Paula Broadwell, or the investigation into the former general's relationship with her. Petraeus left the House hearing to testify before the Senate intelligence committee as well.

Update: Senator Kent Conrad (a Democrat) just came out of the Senate Intelligence Committee and held  his own press conference to emphasize that Ambassador Rice was using unclassified talking points given to her by the intelligence community, which is what Petraeus testified to today.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.