The contoversial resignation of CIA Director David Petraeus on Friday threatens to undermine next week’s hearings into the deadly attack at the U.S. Consulate in Libya, at which he was scheduled to testify.
David Petraeus resigned as head of the CIA following revelations he had engaged in an extramarital affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell and acknowledging that he “showed extremely poor judgment”.
The highly-decorated general, 60, had recently traveled to Libya and the Middle East, and was to testify about the Benghazi attack next week behind closed doors to the House and Senate intelligence committees.
Fears have also emerged as his resignation comes at an extremely sensitive time. The administration and the CIA have struggled to defend security and intelligence lapses before the attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others.
It was an issue during the presidential campaign that ended with Barack Obama’s re-election Tuesday.
David Petraeus had led the CIA for only 14 months. His sudden departure threatened to usher in a period of instability at the spy agency, which is grappling with a leveling off in its budget after a decade of steady increases.
The agency is also fending off questions about its performance before and after the attack that led to the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya.
U.S. officials insisted that the CIA’s handling of the Benghazi incident had nothing to do with David Petraeus’ decision to resign.
The CIA has come under intense scrutiny for providing the White House and other administration officials with talking points that led them to say the Benghazi attack was a result of a film protest, not a militant terror attack.
It has become clear that the CIA was aware the attack was distinct from the film protests roiling across other parts of the Muslim world.
Michael Morell rather than David Petraeus now is expected to testify at closed congressional briefings next week on the September 11 attacks on the consulate in Benghazi.
According to the New York Times, David Petraeus told the White House of the affair, only one day after Barack Obama secured a second term in the White House.
The president did not immediately accept it, aides told the Times, and only reluctantly agreed to it on Friday.
News Corps’ Rupert Murdoch was one of masses who took to Twitter to voice his opinion. The 81-year-old Aussie wrote: “Petraeus resignation. Timing, everything suspicious. There has to be more to this story.”
Chiming in with her own conspiracy theory, conservative talk show radio host Laura Ingraham wrote: “CIA Chief Petraus resignation…something about this stinks to high heaven.”
She added: “COINCIDENCE?! Petraeus is set to testify NEXT week at a closed door session on Capitol Hill about Benghazi. Did BHO push him out? This stinks!”
But some, like Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, reacted to the news in a very forgiving fashion.
“Turns out Petraeus is (sic) human being. And of course we definitely can’t have human beings in government!” she wrote.
For the director of the CIA, being engaged in an extramarital affair is considered a serious breach of security and a counterintelligence threat.
If a foreign government had learned of the affair, the reasoning goes, David Petraeus or the person with whom he was involved could have been blackmailed or otherwise compromised. Military justice considers conduct such as an extramarital affair to be possible grounds for court martial.
Failure to resign also could create the perception for the rank-and-file that such behavior is acceptable.
At FBI headquarters, spokesman Paul Bresson declined to comment on the information that the affair had been discovered in the course of an investigation by the bureau.
In a statement from the president, Barack Obama said: “I am completely confident that the CIA will continue to thrive and carry out its essential mission.”
But there is no indication that he broke any agency rule in connection with his admitted affair, sources familiar with the matter said.
The CIA has no broad rule banning officials from engaging in extramarital affairs, though if discovered, liaisons by CIA personnel with suspected foreign agents would pose security problems for a U.S. spy.
Barack Obama, who accepted David Petraeus’ resignation in a phone call with him Friday afternoon, said that Michael Morell, the agency’s long-time deputy director, would serve as acting CIA chief.
Michael Morell, who is well respected at both the White House and on Capitol Hill, had previously served as acting director following the departure of former CIA chief Leon Panetta.
He is a leading candidate to be David Petraeus’ permanent successor, sources said.
Other possible candidates being discussed on Capitol Hill include John Brennan, Barack Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser; Obama national security adviser Thomas Donilon; and former congresswoman Jane Harman, who chaired the House intelligence committee.
David Petraeus’ resignation also adds a new vacancy on Barack Obama’s national security team. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she will leave after Barack Obama’s first term, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is widely expected to leave as well.
David Petraeus’ wife, Holly, has been an advocate for U.S. veterans and head of the Office of Servicemember Affairs at the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Last month, David and Holly Petraeus appeared together at a reception at the Canadian Embassy in Washington to celebrate the premiere of the Ben Affleck film Argo, which chronicles a successful operation in which the CIA and Canadian diplomats smuggled a group of U.S. officials out of Tehran during the 1979-80 U.S. Embassy hostage crisis.
In a letter to the CIA workforce, David Petraeus said that he met with Barack Obama at the White House on Thursday and asked “to be allowed, for personal reasons, to resign from my position”.
“After being married for 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” David Petraeus wrote.
“Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours.”
Barack Obama, who was re-elected to a second term on Tuesday, said in a statement that he accepted David Petraeus’ resignation, praising him for his work at the CIA and for leading U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The sudden and dramatic turn of events appeared to end the public career of a widely admired man who played a key role in the Iraq war, led the U.S. Central Command and commanded U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
David Petraeus’ name had circulated speculatively as a possible Republican presidential nominee before Barack Obama tapped him as CIA chief. Before taking the CIA post, he retired as an Army general after nearly four decades of military service.