Washington: US lawmakers are set to hold hearings about the deadly 11 September assault on the mission in Benghazi, with disgraced former spy chief David Petraeus expected to testify as early as Thursday.
The White House has mounting questions over the attack in Libya that killed four Americans, including a US ambassador Chris Stevens and two former Navy SEALs, with leading Republican senators calling for “Watergate-style” hearings.
Republican lawmakers have accused the administration of failing to explain why there was not adequate security at the compound and why it took several days to provide a coherent account of the attack, blamed on Islamist militants.
Petraeus was scheduled to testify on the matter before the revelations of his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell forced his shock resignation as CIA director last week, just three days after Obama’s re-election.
The House intelligence committee announced late Wednesday that Petraeus would testify behind closed doors on Friday at 7.30am (1230 GMT).
But Senator John McCain said Petraeus was lined up to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday, raising the prospect of multiple congressional appearances this week for the fallen former general.
Lawmakers from both parties, and from the Senate as well as the House of Representatives, have clamoured for Petraeus and others to speak at various classified hearings to learn more about the circumstances of the attack.
Obama has said he bears full responsibility for any failings connected to Benghazi and on Wednesday slammed Republican lawmakers for criticizing US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice over her statements on the attack.
Republicans have zeroed in on the shifting narrative of the assault, which the administration initially said had stemmed from a spontaneous protest sparked by an offensive anti-Islam video posted on the Internet.
Rice delivered a version of that explanation on Sunday talk shows following the attack, but the administration later backtracked, admitting there had been no protest, but rather a coordinated assault by Islamist militants.
That has now led McCain and fellow Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to call for special “Watergate-style” hearings into the Benghazi attack and vow to thwart the promotion of Rice to secretary of state in Obama’s second term.
An angry Obama fired back on Wednesday, saying “to besmirch her reputation is outrageous” and that he would go ahead and pick her to succeed Hillary Clinton when she steps down next year if he felt Rice was the best candidate.
Graham, a hawkish Republican keen to prevent any primary challenge from his right in the 2014 mid-term elections, swiftly responded to Obama’s remarks.
“Mr President, don’t think for one minute I don’t hold you ultimately responsible for Benghazi,” Graham said in a statement.
“I think you failed as Commander in Chief before, during, and after the attack.”
McCain, meanwhile, said on the Senate floor Wednesday that the Obama administration “has either been guilty of colossal incompetence or engaged in a cover-up, neither of which are acceptable to the American people”.
Lawmakers have also questioned why they and the White House were not informed before the election about the FBI investigation that uncovered the Petraeus affair.
Petraeus—the most celebrated general of his generation, credited with turning the tide of the US war in Iraq—has admitted to having an affair with Broadwell, a married army reservist who wrote a fawning biography of him.
FBI agents uncovered the affair after Tampa socialite Jill Kelley complained of threatening emails they later traced back to Broadwell, who apparently viewed Kelley, a Petraeus family friend, as a competitor for his affections.
The probe also revealed thousands of emails exchanged between Kelley and General John Allen, Petraeus’s successor as top commander in Afghanistan, including some described as “inappropriate” and “flirtatious”.
Allen’s pending nomination to become the next supreme Nato commander in Europe has been put on hold while the Pentagon investigates whether he may have broken the law or military regulations.
The administration has however expressed confidence in Allen, and on Thursday chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Martin Dempsey said he had not yet seen anything that would prevent Allen from being promoted.
The unfolding scandal has rocked Washington as the administration struggles to fill key high-level posts in Obama’s second term and it has rippled through the military as it prepares for the 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But Obama said on Wednesday that the scandal did not threaten national security, and officials have said there is no evidence that classified information was leaked by anyone involved in the investigation. AFP