Petraeus to testify on Benghazi attack

Wed, Nov 14, 2012, 00:00

Ex-CIA chief David Petraeus has agreed to testify to Congress about the attack on the US consulate in Libya that left four Americans dead, but it was not clear when lawmakers would hear from the retired four-star general, who abruptly resigned last week amid a sex scandal.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said Mr Petraeus was willing to testify about the September 11th attack in Benghazi, but the timing had not yet been decided, a spokesman for the California Democrat said.

US lawmakers are demanding to know more about the timeline of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe into Petraeus' affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

President Barack Obama today said no one has provided any evidence so far to indicate that classified information was disclosed as a result of the sex scandal that cost retired Mr Petraeus his job as head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr Obama, speaking in his first formal press conference in eight months and his first since being re-elected last week, also said he is not supposed to meddle in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's probe of the Petraeus matter, and he will not prejudge the investigation's results.

"General Petraeus had an extraordinary career," Mr Obama said, but by Mr Petraeus' own assessment, the former top commander of US troops in Afghanistan no longer met the standards to keep running the CIA.

Representative Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who heads the House Judiciary Committee, wrote the head of the FBI asking for both a timeline and whether Mr Petraeus is the focus of a criminal probe.

"Has the FBI concluded that General Petraeus is not the subject of any criminal or intelligence-related investigation?" Smith asked in the letter.

Earlier today, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, speaking in Perth, Australia, warned against jumping to conclusions over the actions of another military figure, Marine General John Allen, a day after placing him under investigation in connection with the Petraeus scandal.

Gen Allen, the top US commander in Afghanistan, who denies any wrongdoing, is being investigated for potentially inappropriate communications with a woman at the center of the Petraeus case, Jill Kelley, a Florida socialite.

Mr Panetta defended his decision to refer the case to the Pentagon's inspector general and for suspending Mr Allen's nomination to another top position in the US military, saying it was a prudent step "until we determine what the facts are."

"And we will," Mr Panetta told reporters at high-level talks in Perth, also attended by the top US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

At the same time, he praised Gen Allen's work commanding the Afghan war effort, a position he retains despite the probe.

"No one should leap to any conclusions here. General Allen is doing an excellent job at ISAF, in leading those forces," Mr Panetta said, referring to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan.

"He certainly has my continued confidence to lead our forces and continue the fight."

Ms Clinton acknowledged that allies had raised questions about the Allen case but said there was "no concern whatsoever being expressed to us" about the mission in Afghanistan.

Defense officials and people close to Mr Petraeus say neither he nor Gen Allen had a romantic relationship with Ms Kelley, a 37-year-old wife and mother, who is described as a prominent presence in military circles in Tampa.

She may have been seen as a rival by Ms Broadwell, who sent Ms Kelley a series of anonymous, harassing emails which touched off an investigation that uncovered evidence of an affair between Mr Petraeus and Ms Broadwell, according to a law enforcement source.

FBI investigators decided to pursue the matter when they found the messages contained information about the CIA chief's activities that was not publicly available, law enforcement officials said.

Ms Kelley had gotten to know both Mr Petraeus and Gen Allen as a volunteer setting up social events at MacDill Air Force Base outside Tampa, headquarters of US Central Command.

The relationship was evidently close enough that both men intervened in a child custody battle involving Ms Kelley's twin sister, Natalie Khawam.

"She is a dedicated mother, whose only focus is to provide the necessary support, love, and care for her son," Allen wrote about Khawam in a September 22nd letter to a Washington, D.C., court.

Gen Allen and Ms Kelley communicated often enough over the past two years to produce between 20,000 and 30,000 pages of email and other messages, which were turned over to Defense Department investigators on Sunday.

The actual volume of communications is likely much smaller, an official said, as the printouts include messages involving other people and email threads including prior communications.

A senior defense official told Reuters the messages were seen as inappropriate because they were "flirtatious" in nature, not because they dealt with sensitive information.

But "flirtatious" may be an understatement. Another US official said the Pentagon only decided to refer it for investigation after an initial look found the communications to be of "a sufficient character" to warrant further review.

Gen Allen has denied that he and Ms Kelley had a sexual relationship, officials said on condition of anonymity. Adultery can lead to a dishonorable discharge under U.S. military law.

The scandal complicates President Barack Obama's efforts to reorganize his national security team following his re-election. The White House said it still had faith in Allen, but acknowledged that its plans to transfer him to Europe, where he would head US and allied forces, have been suspended.