WASHINGTON (AP) — Ex-CIA Director David Petraeus was whisked clandestinely into a secure room beneath the Capitol, escaping waiting crowds of photographers and television cameras, to meet privately on Friday with members of Congress for the first time since he resigned over an extramarital affair with his biographer.
The retired four-star general, who until last week was one of America's most respected military leaders, discussed with the House and Senate intelligence committees the Sept. 11 attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead. He did not discuss his affair with Paula Broadwell, except to say his departure was not tied to the Libya attack. The scandal ended his career and has damaged others, and has led to a new CIA internal investigation.
The surreptitious entrance in the morning attested to the circus-like atmosphere of the scandal that has preoccupied Washington, even as the possibility of war loomed in Israel and the U.S. government faced a market-rattling "fiscal cliff" that could imperil a still-fragile economy. The tangled web has so far enveloped Petraeus; the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen; two Florida socialites and a decorated FBI counterterrorism agent.
Lawmakers said the affair came up only briefly at the top of Petraeus' 90-minute appearance before the House committee.
"He did express deep regret to the committee for the circumstances for his departure" and reassured Congress that the Libya attack had nothing to do with his resignation, said Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I.
Petraeus also addressed his affair at the opening of the Senate hearing.
"He was very clear his resignation was tied solely to his personal behavior. He was apologetic and regretful but still Gen. Petraeus," Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said as he left the hearing early to catch a flight.
Unlike previous appearances at the Capitol, when Petraeus has walked through the front door and greeted reporters, he was sneaked inside the secure hearing room for the morning testimony in a manner more suited to a covert operative, through a network of underground hallways. Police closed down entire corridors in the Capitol.
Congress sets its own security and protective police presence for witnesses. It's not unusual for those asked to testify to negotiate with lawmakers the details of how they will be admitted. Executives and celebrities are sometimes also allowed to make a private entrance.
Petraeus, 60, acknowledged last week publicly that he had cheated on his wife of 38 years with Broadwell, who is 40.
The FBI began investigating the matter last summer but didn't notify the White House or Congress until after the election.
In the investigation, the FBI uncovered flirtatious emails between Allen and Florida socialite Jill Kelley, both of them married. President Barack Obama has put a promotion nomination for Allen on hold.
Petraeus, in his first media interview since he resigned, told CNN this week that he had never given classified information to Broadwell. She has said she didn't receive such material from Petraeus.
But the FBI found a substantial number of classified documents on Broadwell's computer and in her home, according to a law enforcement official, and is investigating how she got them. That official spoke only on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. The Army has now suspended her security clearance.
The CIA on Thursday opened an exploratory investigation into Petraeus' conduct. The inquiry "doesn't presuppose any particular outcome," said CIA spokesman Preston Golson. At the same time, Army officials say that, at this point, there is no appetite for recalling Petraeus to active duty to pursue any adultery charges against him.
Associated Press writers Nedra Pickler, Larry Margasak, Adam Goldman, Lolita C. Baldor, Pete Yost, Donna Cassata and Robert Burns contributed to this report.