Former CIA chief David Petraeus, who stepped down last week over a sex scandal, testified Friday in Congress behind closed doors about the terrorist attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, DPA reported.
But his role in the aftermath of the September 11 attack that killed US ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US officials was the top of the agenda, even though the former NATO commander in Afghanistan apologized to lawmakers about his affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell, according to The New York Times.
According to legislators who spoke to US media after his closed-door testimony, Petraeus said that the Obama administration at first withheld their suspicions that al-Qaeda-linked groups had carried out the attack in order not to tip off the attackers, the Times reported.
Petraeus visited Tripoli after the attack in his role as CIA director and interviewed many of the people that were involved, which added pressure for Petraeus to testify even though he has resigned from the CIA.
Republicans have blasted administration officials for taking more than a week to declare the attack the work of terrorists. They have focussed their fire on UN ambassador Susan Rice for going on talk shows just days after the attack to insist that it arose spontaneously in protest over a US-produced video that insulted Muslims.
Senator Kent Conrad, a member of the Senate panel that grilled Petraeus, said he was satisfied that Rice had conducted herself properly, and according to the way she had been prepared by US security officials. She had been coached with talking points that blamed the attacks on the provocative video.
"She did entirely the responsible thing in answering questions based on what was unclassified and agreed to by the entire intelligence community as reflecting their unclassified views at the moment that she used those talking points," Conrad said.
The talking points had been provided by the CIA and signed off by the intelligence community, Senator Dianne Feinstein said. "I don't think she should be pilloried for this," the senator said.
But Republicans said she should have been more careful to avoid leaving the false impression that the offensive video was responsible. Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham earlier this week called Rice untrustworthy and unqualified to be the nation's top diplomat if Obama chooses her to succeed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Clinton is to testify in public in December after the series of closed-door hearings over the coming weeks.
McCain has called for a Watergate-type joint committee of both chambers to investigate the shortcomings of the administration of US President Barack Obama in dealing with the attack and its aftermath.
In the Petraeus scandal, the CIA has opened its own preliminary investigation into his extramarital affair and whether it posed a security risk. FBI officials, who have been investigating for months, have reportedly concluded that there was no such risk.