Barack Obama may have known about the extra-marital affair that brought down former CIA boss David Petraeus prior to being re-elected president, the Republican head of the influential House intelligence committee claimed Sunday.
Casting aspersions over the official timeline of events, congressman Mike Rogers said he was “not sure” that Obama did not know about the four-star general’s infidelities ahead of the 6 November election, suggesting that attorney general Eric Holder may have notified him privately of the matter.
He called on Holder to address Congress over the issue.
Questions over who knew what and when in relation to the scandal have become a persistent irritant to the White House, with opponents of the president suggesting, in the words of House homeland security committee chairman Peter King, that something “doesn’t add up”.
It is thought that the FBI originally questioned Petraeus about his affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell in October but sat on the information until the night of the election.
At that point, agents notified national intelligence director James Clapper who advised the CIA chief to resign.
Even then it was not until the next day that the White House was informed of the situation.
It then took a further 24 hours before newly re-elected Obama was told that his intelligence chief was to tender his resignation, according to administration officials.
It was initially suggested by some in Washington that Petraeus’s resignation was timed so that he would avoid giving evidence to congressional bodies on the deadly assault on the US consulate in Benghazi.
That theory was blown out of the water on Friday, when the former CIA chief did give evidence to lawmakers. He told them during a closed-door session that he had always known that a terrorist group was behind the attack – some officials, notably UN ambassador Susan Rice had at first suggested that the assault was part of a spontaneous demonstration over a US-produced anti-Muslim film.
Petraeus is said to have explained in Friday’s hearing that a report provided to Rice – who is tipped to Hillary Clinton successor in the State Department – did not mention the reference to it being the result of a terrorist attack.
Despite the former CIA chief’s testimony, a succession of Republican lawmakers have kept up the pressure on Rice to give evidence in person over why she initially suggested that the attack – in which four Americans including ambassador Chris Stevens were killed – was the result of a protest that turned violent.
“She’s going to have to come in and testify at some point, whether it’s in a closed hearing or an open hearing,” Republican Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, told Fox News Sunday.
With suspicion over Petraeus’s resignation being linked to a Benghazi cover-up seemingly removed, some Republican lawmakers now appear to be suggesting that the president misled America over when he was informed about the general’s affair for political game.
On Meet the Press, Rogers said: “I’m not sure that the president was not told before election day. The attorney general said that the Department of Justice did not notify the president, but we don’t know if the attorney general…(notified him).
The Republican House representative added that Holder should come before the intelligence committees to discuss the matter.
“We could resolve this very quickly with a conversation in the intelligence spaces if he did have that conversation with the president,” he said.
The Democrat chair of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, disagreed.
She said the attorney general had already explained that there had been no notification while the investigation into the Petraeus affair was under way.
The Justice Department and the FBI took this approach, “so there is an ability to move ahead without any political weighing-in on any side,” she said.