WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former CIA Director David Petraeus told lawmakers during private hearings Friday he believed all along that the deadly Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya was a terrorist strike, even though the Obama administration initially described it differently in public.
The retired general addressed the House Intelligence Committee in his first Capitol Hill testimony since resigning a week ago over an extramarital affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, but he did not discuss that scandal except to express regret about the circumstances of his departure.
Lawmakers said Petraeus testified that the CIA's talking points written in response to the assault on the consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, referred to it as a terrorist attack. But Petraeus told the lawmakers it was removed by other federal agencies that made changes to the CIA's draft.
Petraeus said he did not know who removed the reference to terrorism, Rep. Peter King told reporters.
King said Petraeus had briefed the House committee on Sept. 14, and he did not recall Petraeus being so positive at that time that it was a terrorist attack. "He thought all along that he made it clear there was terrorist involvement," King said. "That was not my recollection."
King also said that to this day, it's still not clear how the final talking points emerged that were used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice five days after the attack, when the White House sent her to appear in a series of television interviews.
Rice said it appeared the attack was caused by a spontaneous protest over an anti-Muslim video produced in the U.S. Some Republican senators this week vowed to block Rice if Obama nominates her to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state.
Rep. Adam Schiff said Petraeus disputed Republican lawmakers' suggestions that the White House misled the public on what led to the violence in the midst of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
"There was an interagency process to draft it, not a political process," Schiff said. "They came up with the best assessment without compromising classified information or sources or methods. So changes were made to protect classified information.
"The general was adamant there was no politicization of the process, no White House interference or political agenda," Schiff said. "He completely debunked that idea."
Schiff said Petraeus said Rice's comments in the television interviews "reflected the best intelligence at the time that could be released publicly."
Lawmakers said the affair with Broadwell that ended Petraeus' widely respected career came up only briefly at the beginning of his 90-minute appearance before the House committee.
"The only thing he did in the beginning of his testimony is he did express deep regret to the committee for the circumstances for his depature" and reassure the committee that the Libya attacks had nothing to do with his resignation, said Rep. Jim Langevin.
Petraeus, once one of the most respected U.S. military leaders as the top commander in Iraq and Afghanistan, sneaked into the Capitol through a network of underground hallways, away from photographers and television cameras.
During previous appearances before Congress, CIA directors typically have walked through the building's front door.
Petraeus later headed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Lawmakers spent hours Thursday interviewing top intelligence and national security officials, trying to determine what intelligence agencies knew before, during and after the Libya attack. They viewed security video from the consulate and surveillance footage by an unarmed CIA Predator drone that showed events in real time.
Lawmakers also have been concerned this week about any security leaks related to Petraeus' affair.
Petraeus last week acknowledged the affair with his biographer. The resignation stunned Washington, which once had buzzed with talk about a possible run for president in his future.
The FBI began investigating the matter last summer but didn't notify the White House or Congress until after the Nov. 6 election.
In the course of investigating the Petraeus affair, the FBI uncovered suggestive emails between Afghanistan war chief Gen. John Allen and Florida socialite Jill Kelley, both of them married. Obama has put a promotion nomination for Allen on hold.
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.
Petraeus, in his first media interview since he resigned, told CNN 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.