WASHINGTON — Former Director David Petraeus’s testimony to the House Benghazi committee Wednesday was consistent with what he told congressional investigators more than two years ago when he debunked several conspiracy theories about the deadly attacks, according to a committee Democrat.
Petraeus spent four hours behind closed doors Wednesday answering questions from the GOP-led panel investigating the twin 2012 assaults in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
Petraeus, who was director when the attack occurred, testified previously before the House Intelligence committee as part of its investigation of the attacks.
“What he is saying is completely consistent with what he’s said in the past and indeed with the conclusions of the bipartisan (House) Intelligence committee report,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of both panels, as he emerged from the closed-door session.
Schiff said there was no stand-down order or gun-running.
The two-year investigation by the GOP-led Intelligence panel found that the and the acted properly in responding to the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound and annex, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees.
The report, issued in November 2014, debunked persistent allegations, and found there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a rescue team, no missed opportunity for a rescue, and no evidence the was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.
Schiff said he hoped “this is the last time we have to bring the director back to repeat his testimony.” But Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel’s chairman, said he expects to call Petraeus to testify again because several committee members did not question the retired general.
“We’re actually not through with him,” Gowdy said.
The GOP chairman also left open the possibility that the probe could last well into the presidential election year.
“I will offer this caveat: that sometimes you interview witnesses and you hear names that you had not previously heard,” Gowdy said. “We have consistently learned new information that no other previous committee either endeavored to look at or learned.”
Petraeus was the first of four former Obama administration officials scheduled to appear before the committee in the next week. The committee will question former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday.
Gowdy said earlier Wednesday that about a dozen interviews remain, including sessions with National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes. The Benghazi committee hopes to release a report “within the next few months,” said spokesman Matt Wolking.
Democrats argue that the inquiry is moving slowly to undermine the candidacy of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who served as secretary of state at the time of the attacks. Clinton testified for some 11 hours last year before the panel and no revelations emerged during her day-night session.
Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s senior Democrat, called the Benghazi investigation “hyperpartisan and ineffective.”
Democrats note that the probe, begun in May 2014, has gone on longer than the 9/11 Commission took to investigate the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
Instead of following the bipartisan model set by the 9/11 Commission, Cummings said, Gowdy and other Republicans “continue to drag out this political charade closer to the 2016 presidential election, and the American taxpayers continue to pay the price.”
Republican insistence that the investigation is not politically motivated was undermined last year when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggested that the House committee could take credit for Clinton’s slumping poll numbers.
The committee said it interviewed 64 witnesses last year, including 53 people who had never been interviewed by any congressional committee looking into the attacks. The panel also has reviewed about 100,000 pages of documents.
The attacks have been the subject of seven previous congressional investigations and an independent panel led by former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman.
The 12-member committee has spent more than $5 million since its creation.
Republicans say the committee has been hindered by stonewalling by the State Department and other executive branch agencies.