Many lawmakers from both parties say they consider the extramarital affair of David H. Petraeus and his retirement from the CIA a distraction from a more meaningful spy-related investigation: what happened in the lead-up to and fallout from the September terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The House and Senate panels are seeking testimony from Petraeus on Benghazi. Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., confirmed Wednesday that Petraeus has agreed to testify before her panel about Benghazi, although she was not certain of the timing. And House Intelligence Committee officials announced Wednesday evening that Petraeus would testify in closed session Friday morning about the events in Libya.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in talking to Gen. Petraeus and getting his Benghazi report, not this other thing,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., referring to a Petraeus-written report on his recent trip to Libya. Blunt is a member of the Intelligence Committee.
“That’s the most focus — what did you learn in Benghazi and what do we need to know about it?” he said.
Although a number of lawmakers have serious concerns about whether Petraeus’ affair has national security ramifications, some view it more as a media-orchestrated scandal of lesser consequence than other matters.
“Look, the media coverage obviously is on these new emerging facts in the Petraeus and other cases,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told MSNBC on Tuesday, agreeing that the issue was taking up a lot of “oxygen” that might otherwise be devoted to Congress’ efforts to avoid the fiscal cliff of tax increases and program cutbacks. One of the “other cases” includes an inspector general investigation into Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen Jr., the current commander of all allied forces in Afghanistan, regarding a relationship with a woman tied to the Petraeus scandal.
Feinstein on Tuesday largely shied away from answering questions about Petraeus’ affair, saying that her focus was on Benghazi. Her panel’s vice chairman, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., also said Tuesday that he is more interested in Benghazi, adding that some of it was practical in nature; the FBI has an ongoing investigation into Petraeus’ personal behavior, while only Congress can dig into the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, he said.
Senate Armed Services ranking Republican John McCain of Arizona said Wednesday that the disclosures about Petraeus are “very serious, and I think it deserves a thorough and complete investigation. But it does not rise to the level of an attack on an American consulate that took four American lives.”
McCain and GOP colleagues Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire introduced a resolution Wednesday calling for the creation of a bipartisan, bicameral special committee to investigate Benghazi to replace the multiple, stove-piped investigations that various committees on both sides of the Capitol are currently conducting.
“We believe the complexity and gravity of this matter warrant the establishment of a temporary select committee that can conduct an integrated review of the many national security issues involved, which cut across multiple executive agencies and legislative committees,” McCain said at a press conference announcing the resolution.
Feinstein, however, quickly rejected the proposal after appearing open to it earlier in the week.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.