U.S. House and Senate committees have questioned former CIA chief David Petraeus about the Obama administration's initial descriptions of the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
Lawmakers say Petraeus told the House and Senate intelligence committees, in closed hearings on Friday, that he believed from the onset that terrorist elements were involved in the attack in Benghazi.
Republican congressman Peter King, however, told reporters that he questioned Petraeus about his initial description of the incident.
The House Homeland Security chairman said he did not recall Petraeus being so certain of terrorist involvement when the former CIA director briefed a House committee September 14 on the matter.
“I told him, in my questions, that I had a very different recollection of that. The clear impression that we were given was that the overwhelming about of evidence was that it rose out of a spontaneous demonstration.”
But, Democratic congressman Dutch Ruppersberger said Petraeus had been clear from the start in his description of the attack.
“My recollection is that he felt that it was as a result of a protest — and that was the beginning. So maybe the first thing you hear is what your retain. But he also said that within the group, there were some extremist and al-Qaida affiliates.”
Some lawmakers have questioned if the Obama administration attempted to hide information about the attack to avoid any embarrassment before the November 6 presidential election.
Some Republicans have been especially critical of comments made by the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Five days after the incident, Rice said it appeared the attack was caused by a spontaneous protest.
CBS News says CIA “talking points” that were given to Rice and some House intelligence committee members September 15 made no reference to terrorism but said “currently available information suggests the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by protests” in Egypt.
At the time, a U.S.-produced anti-Muslim film had sparked widespread anti-U.S. protests.
President Barack Obama and some Democratic lawmakers have defended Rice, saying there was no deliberate attempt to put forth misleading information.
Also, speaking about the attack the day after it happened, Mr. Obama said “no acts of terror” would shake American resolve.
The attack resulted in the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Petraeus resigned as CIA chief last week after an FBI investigation uncovered an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.
Congressman Ruppersberger told reporters there was a “mention” of the affair during Petraeus's testimony before the House panel.
Ruppersberger said the former CIA chief told lawmakers that anything that occurred with respect to his personal situation had nothing to do with the Benghazi attack. Petraeus said he did not resign to try to avoid testifying about the incident in Libya.
Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday said he felt “very secure” that there was no national security breach in the Petraeus scandal.