Republican allegations that former CIA Acting Director Mike Morell misled Congress over the White House's role in crafting the flawed Benghazi “talking points” took a dramatic turn Thursday, with the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee telling Fox News it's likely Morell will be recalled to testify.
Investigators also are reviewing the testimony of former CIA Director David Petraeus, Morell’s old boss, to assess whether he should be recalled as well.
"We are having some transcript reviews. We've been continually doing that through the committee,” Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told Fox News. “We're looking at Director Petraeus' transcripts and reviews -- looking at what information we have now available. Sometimes that second interview can be equally important and it is likely we will have Director Morell up to testify before the committee.”
The debate continues to focus on why the talking points did not reflect the best available intelligence, and what influence the administration brought to bear on the flawed public narrative of the attack in the days immediately following Sept. 11, 2012 – that narrative initially claimed the attacks sprung out of protests over an anti-Islam film.
Among the allegations, Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee said in a January 2014 Benghazi report that Morell insisted the talking points were sent to the White House for informational purposes, and not for their input -- but e-mails, later released by the administration, showed otherwise.
In response to Rogers’ comments, Morell said in an email to Fox News, “I sent him a letter this afternoon saying that I would very much welcome an invitation to testify in open session before the Committee on Benghazi.”
Since retiring from the CIA, Morell has taken on high-profile assignments for the administration, including the NSA review panel and the President's Intelligence Advisory Board. He is now a paid TV commentator for CBS News, has a book deal, and works for Beacon Global Strategies, whose founder Philippe Reines has been described by the New York Times magazine as Hillary Clinton's "principal gatekeeper."
Asked if he was leaving the door open for recalling Petraeus, Rogers said: "Absolutely, We're not going to take any lead off the table. And if there's some clarifying questions that we can get done that leads to a conclusion, an appropriate conclusion and the finding of fault in this particular event we'll--- everybody is subject to coming back to the committee."
Immediately after the attack, then-Director Petraeus rankled some lawmakers when they say he characterized Benghazi as consistent with a flash mob, and downplayed the skill needed to fire mortars with deadly accuracy on the CIA annex. CIA personnel on the ground in Benghazi recently testified that five mortars rained down on the annex in under a minute, and three were direct hits, killing former Navy SEALs Ty Woods and Glen Doherty, who were defending the compound. A source close to Petraeus insisted at the time that he knew it was terrorism from day one.
No determination has been made but Rogers said if witnesses are recalled, his preference is for public testimony. "I would prefer to have an open session. I think that would be, I think enlightening to everybody who has concerns about what happened on that September 11th day that took the lives of our Americans."
Also Thursday, three U.S. senators who met with Morell and then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice in late 2012 took to the Senate floor, calling for Rice to testify as well. Rice, who stirred controversy in 2012 for blaming the attack on protests, recently told NBC News the talking points were based on the best-available intelligence. Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., want her back on the Hill.
"We now have facts that she was absolutely wrong. Of course, the question also remains what in the world was Susan Rice doing speaking that morning?" McCain said.
Ayotte added, "We need to have her testimony before the Congress to get to the bottom of why these representations were made. Mr. Morell needs to be brought before the Congress and ultimately we need a select committee.”
Graham said there was ample intelligence in the days after the attack that there was no protest, citing eyewitness accounts from U.S. personnel on the ground in Benghazi. "Why didn't the CIA pick up the phone and call the FBI agents interviewing the Benghazi survivors in Germany on the 15th, 16th and 17th of September, days after the attack?"
In a November 2012 meeting, Graham said Morell accused the FBI of refusing to share those accounts. "He said -- Mike Morell -- the FBI basically would not share that information because it is an ongoing criminal investigation. My mouth dropped. When the meeting was over, I ran back to my office. I called the FBI. … They also denied that their agents ever withheld information from the CIA.”
In an earlier email to Fox News on Feb. 13, Morell said: "I stand behind what I have said to you and testified to Congress about the talking point issue. Neither the Agency, the analysts, nor I cooked the books in any way."
When asked specific questions on Feb. 20 about Republican allegations he provided misleading testimony, Morell did not answer the questions, instead referring Fox News to the CIA public affairs office.
Spokesman Dean Boyd provided this statement to Fox News on Feb. 20: "As we have said multiple times, the talking points on Benghazi were written, upon a request from Congress, so that members of Congress could say something preliminary and in an unclassified forum about the attacks. As former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell has stated publicly time and again, the talking points were never meant to be definitive and, in fact, the points themselves noted that the initial assessment may change. He has addressed his role in the talking points numerous times. We don't have anything further to add to the large body of detail on the talking points that is already in the public domain."
Fox News also asked Petraeus if he would appear voluntarily if recalled by the House Intelligence Committee, and there was no immediate response.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.