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Petraeus Testifies On Benghazi At Closed Hearing

Former CIA Director David Petraeus testified on Capitol Hill on Friday. In his first appearance since he resigned from the CIA over an extramarital affair, Petraeus, briefed members of Congress on the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The secret session focused, according to members of Congress, on how the attack began and whether the Obama administration mischaracterized events.

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Transcript

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Former CIA director David Petraeus went to Capitol Hill today to set the record straight - not about the affair that led to his resignation, but about Benghazi and the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate there. Republicans say the Obama administration misled the public in the days following the attack. They say the White House sought to downplay any terrorist connection ahead of the election. Administration officials have denied politics played a role. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston tells us more about today's hearing.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: The Obama administration knew within 24 hours that terrorists linked to al-Qaida were responsible for the attack against the consulate in Benghazi. But that's not what it said publicly. As a result, questions have persisted over whether the administration purposefully downplayed the terrorist angle for political reasons. Exhibit A, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's comments on Sunday talk shows just five days after the attacks.

(SOUNDBITE OF "MEET THE PRESS")

SUSAN RICE: Our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was in fact initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Ambassador Rice on "Meet the Press," the first Sunday after the attack.

(SOUNDBITE OF "MEET THE PRESS")

RICE: Almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The video - the anti-Muslim trailer that went viral on YouTube and sparked demonstrations across the Middle East. Today, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, who listened to Petraeus' testimony, defended Rice. She said that the ambassador had been given talking points by the CIA and she simply followed them. Then, Feinstein read from the talking points themselves.

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: (reading) The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the United States embassy in Cairo and evolved into a direct assault.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Petraeus arrived on Capitol Hill to, among other things, explain where those controversial talking points came from. Petraeus told lawmakers that the talking points had been vetted by a number of agencies and an early version included references to local Islamist groups. That's the part of the story that Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, took away from today's session.

REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING: Prior to September 14th, had clear information that this was strong involvement with al-Qaida affiliates, and that was not made part of their presentation.

TEMPLE-RASTON: A U.S. official familiar with the talking points said later in the day that any changes weren't done to minimize links to terrorism. It seems everyone today heard just what they wanted to hear. Senator Feinstein defended Rice.

FEINSTEIN: She did what I would have done or anyone else would have done that was going on a weekend show. You would have said what talking points can I use and you'd get an unclassified version.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The elephant in the room, of course, was Petraeus's resignation from the CIA last week. The FBI discovered that he was having an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, his biographer. King said lawmakers tiptoed around the issue.

KING: Think there was a certain amount of awkwardness, yeah, sure. I mean, obviously, all of us in the room - certainly myself and all of us - have a great regard for him. I've known him for nine years now. So, it's - I actually urged him to run for president a few years ago.

TEMPLE-RASTON: King said ten seconds into the hearing the whole Petraeus scandal was asked and answered. After it was all over, the famously press-friendly general left the Senate in a car with tinted glass. Reporters couldn't even catch a glimpse of him. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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