In his first public comments on the sex scandal that has roiled the top levels of the CIA and the military, President Obama said Wednesday he had seen “no evidence” that classified information had been compromised in the wake of David H. Petraeus‘ stunning decision to resign as CIA director after admitting to an extramarital affair late last week.
Mr. Obama would not say whether the FBI should have informed him sooner about the investigation into Mr. Petraeus‘ affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, saying the FBI “has protocols” that it follows to maintain the integrity of its investigations. The FBI had been looking into the relationship between Mr. Petraeus and Mrs. Broadwell since the summer, but the president was informed of the probe Nov. 8, two days after he won re-election.
Mr. Obama’s first extended comments on the scandal, made during his Wednesday news conference, came as word leaked that Mr. Petraeus had agreed to testify before Congress about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Mr. Petraeus had canceled his scheduled appearance Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee after quitting his CIA post, but the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said Wednesday evening that Mr. Petraeus will testify behind closed doors Friday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate panel’s chairwoman, said Wednesday that Mr. Petraeus had agreed to testify, adding that his testimony will be limited to the Benghazi incident. Mr. Petraeus traveled to Libya after the attack to interview CIA personnel about the incident, in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.
“He is very willing and interested in talking to the committee,” Mrs. Feinstein, California Democrat, said of the former CIA chief.
Some skeptical Republicans say it was crucial to hear Gen. Petraeus‘ version of events on Benghazi.
“It is critical to hear Gen. Petraeus under oath,” Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said. “He was on the ground, yet he went ahead with the administration’s line.”
Expressing sorrow at the abrupt end to Mr. Petraeus‘ storied military and intelligence career, Mr. Obama told reporters, “I have no evidence at this point from what I’ve seen that classified information was disclosed that in any way would have a negative impact to our national security.”
Pressed on the FBI’s monthslong delay in letting the White House know that the nation’s top intelligence official was under investigation, Mr. Obama said he is “withholding judgment” on how the agency handled the case.
“We don’t have all the information yet, but I want to say I have a lot of confidence generally in the FBI,” Mr. Obama said. “They have a difficult job. It is also possible that, had we been told, you’d be sitting here talking about why you were involved in a criminal investigation. One of the challenges here is that we’re not supposed to meddle in criminal investigations.”
Dominating the news
The scandal has dominated news out of the administration in the week since Mr. Obama won re-election, and the investigation has expanded to ensnare Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. commander of forces in Afghanistan. Officials say Mrs. Broadwell sent harassing emails to Jill Kelley of Tampa, Fla., a woman whom she viewed as a rival for Mr. Petraeus‘ affection.
The probe also revealed that Mrs. Kelley, an unofficial hostess of social gatherings for military brass in Tampa, Fla., also exchanged sometimes flirtatious messages with Gen. Allen. The general’s nomination to become NATO’s supreme allied commander was abruptly put on hold this week while the investigation continues.
Mr. Petraeus contends that he did not share any classified information with Mrs. Broadwell, but during an Oct. 26 speech at the University of Colorado before the scandal broke, Mrs. Broadwell talked about the Benghazi attack and suggested it was an attempt to free militants being held in the CIA’s annex building, a claim the administration has not addressed.