Sen. Bob Corker, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, acknowledged that the GOP’s focus on the deaths of four Americans in Bengahzi, Libya, has been heightened by the timing, as it occurred toward the end of a close presidential election.
“In fairness, one of the reasons the administration has responded the way they have responded is they have spiked the ball so many times on Osama bin Laden,” he said.
But Corker acknowledged that the scrutiny being applied by Republicans “no doubt has been heightened by when it happened” — in the fall of a tight presidential election campaign.
“Americans are not satisfied with the changing story and remaining questions surrounding Libya,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said. “The president and his administration have repeatedly misled the public.”
On Tuesday night, Romney charged that Obama was reluctant to recognize the Benghazi attack as terrorism. Obama said he did so almost immediately in a Rose Garden statement.
Debate moderator Candy Crowley backed up Obama’s position, creating an awkward moment for Romney. That allowed the president, for the first time after weeks of playing defense on the issue, to shift to offense and rip Romney for politicizing the issue, while also taking responsibility for the security failure and vowing once again to hunt down the killers.
In fact, what Obama said in his Rose Garden response to the deaths in Libya was: “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” The Romney campaign charged that Obama’s statement was generic and said that his administration, when asked repeatedly for days afterward if the Benghazi attack was terrorism, would not say it was.
“Gov. Romney was right on the facts and he’ll continue to highlight the ever-changing story,” Williams said. “Anybody who followed this topic understood the Obama administration falsely maintained that this was a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video.”
But Obama’s campaign and surrogates pointed to the president’s use of the word “terror” three times in the two days following the attack and accused the Romney camp of playing politics with national security.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that Obama believed it was a terror attack, even though the intelligence at the time indicated that it appeared to stem from the video. Carney told reporters the attack could be both a result of a protest and an act of terror.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and the stand-in for Romney in the president’s debate preparations, dismissed Romney’s attacks as fumbling and unpresidential.
“The president called it an act of terror,” Kerry said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “You don’t play games with national security. ... Before anybody knew the facts, Mitt Romney was politicizing this issue.”
Still, Kerry said that Congress will continue its inquiries. “We want the facts and we’ll get the facts,” he said.
Investigations continue on both sides of the Capitol, including probes by Kerry’s committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine).
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) held a hearing last week, during which State Department officials acknowledged that the agency denied requests for more security in Tripoli. “The warning signs were there and they weren’t heeded,” Issa said Sunday on CBS.