(We added a new top to this post at 12:40 p.m. ET to round up the latest developments.)
The White House did not insert politics into the process of determining what could be said about the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in the days immediately afterward, former CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress this morning, according to lawmakers who were inside closed briefings today.
Petraeus, a retired 4-star Army general, "was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. "He completely debunked that idea."
In particular, lawmakers said, Petraeus offered testimony to support the view that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice did not deliberately mislead anyone.
Emerging from a Senate hearing with Petraeus, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said that what he heard from the former CIA director indicates that Rice relied on "unclassified talking points that the entire intelligence community had signed off on" when she spoke — and therefore does not deserve the criticism she's gotten from some Republicans.
Petraeus, the lawmakers said, said that he always believed the attack was a terrorist strike and that the CIA passed that analysis on to other agencies. That conclusion was not included in talking points drafted for Rice before Sept. 16 TV appearances she made, however. Schiff told reporters that Petraeus indicated "there was an interagency process to draft [the talking points], not a political process. ... They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or source or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information."
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, however, said he did not agree with everything Petraeus said today. Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, told reporters that Petraeus testified that he "had told us [shortly after Sept. 11] that this was a terrorist attack or that there were terrorists involved" in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. King said he told Petraeus that he recalls being given the "clear impression" in the days immediately after the attack that "it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration and was not a terrorist attack."
As for the extramarital affair that led to Petraeus's resignation a week ago, lawmakers said it barely came up. "The only thing he did in the beginning of his testimony is ... express deep regret to the committee for the circumstances for his depature," said Rep. Jim Langevin, R-R.I. Petraeus also told lawmakers that the attack in Benghazi and the handling of its aftermath had nothing to do with his resignation.
Petraeus did not cross paths with reporters today. He entered the Capitol through underground tunnels.
Our original post and earlier updates — "Petraeus Facing Questions About Benghazi Attack":
The doors will be closed so the nation won't be able to watch. But one week after his scandal-tinged resignation, former CIA Director David Petraeus is today fielding questions from members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees.
He's due to meet with the House panel this hour and with the senators at 9 a.m. ET.
The extramarital affair that brought down Petraeus is not the primary topic of the day, however.
As NPR's Dina Temple-Raston said on Morning Edition, the lawmakers want to hear from Petraeus about why security was apparently lax at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the ambassador and three other Americans were killed on Sept. 11. And they want to know why some Obama administration officials said in the days just after the attack that it might have been inspired by outrage over an anti-Muslim video produced in California, when there was also evidence that the attackers were connected to terrorist groups.
On that point about what administration officials were saying about the attack, CBS News reports it "has obtained the CIA talking points given to U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sept. 15 regarding the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, four days earlier. CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan says the talking points, which were also given to members of the House intelligence committee, make no reference to terrorism being a likely factor in the assault, which left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead."
Petraeus, who went to Libya following the attack, will surely be asked about what the CIA knew and what it told administration officials.
We'll watch for news from Petraeus's appearances. But, again, they're going to be behind closed doors. So reports will be somewhat second-hand.
Update at 11:20 a.m. ET. Ambassador Rice Used "Unclassified Talking Points" In Her Post-Attack Comments, Senator Says.
The most-contested point about what the administration said in the days following the Benghazi attack is whether U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice was misleading when she talked about the video being the spark. Emerging from the Senate hearing with Petraeus, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota just told reporters that what he heard supports the view that Rice relied on "unclassified talking points that the entire intelligence community had signed off on" when she spoke — and therefore does not deserve the criticism she's gotten from some Republicans.
Update at 9:35 a.m. ET. Rep. King Says He And Petraeus Disagreed About What Was Said After Attack:
According to the chairman of the House committee, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York, Petraeus testified today that "from the start, he had told us that this was a terrorist attack or that there were terrorists involved" in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. King said he told Petraeus that he recalls being given the "clear impression" in the days immediately after the attack that "it arose out of a spontaneous demonstration and was not a terrorist attack."
Update at 9:10 a.m. ET. First Hearing Is Over:
Intelligence officials now "clearly believe" that the Benghazi attack was not a spontaneous event sparked by the anti-Muslim video, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) just told reporters. He's chairman of the House committee.
Petraeus, King said, was "very professional, very knoweldgeable" during his testimony.
a strong guy