With just more than three weeks before elections that are expected to be decided based on the economy, the White House appears even more on the defensive over an ongoing controversy surrounding the Sept. 11 murder of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Allies of President Barack Obama and his top re-election campaign aides who appeared on the Sunday shows were repeatedly pressed on the inconsistencies of early administration accounts on the assassinations of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others at the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Campaign surrogates for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney joined the chorus, blasting Obama and administration officials for initially blaming the deadly assault on an anti-Islamic video and suggesting it grew out of a spontaneous anti-American demonstration — all of which turned out to be untrue. But the toughest words delivered today came from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).
"They're trying to sell a narrative, quite frankly, that the Mideast, the wars are receding and al-Qaida's been dismantled," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "And to admit that our embassy was attacked by al-Qaida operatives and Libya, leading from behind, didn't work, I think undercuts that narrative."
"They never believed the media would investigate. Congress was out of session. And this caught up with them," Graham added. "I think they have been misleading us, but it finally caught up with them. ... Either they're misleading the American people or incredibly incompetent.”
Obama surrogates stuck to their story from earlier this week, insisting that the administration was focused on investigating the incident and accusing Republicans of "playing politics" with the incident and treating it like a “political football."
"We're learning stuff each and every day about what happened. That's what an investigation is supposed to do," senior Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on CNN's "State of the Union."
"Let's figure out what happened," he added. "But, you know what, we don't need wing-tipped cowboys, OK. We don't need shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy, and when Mitt Romney first responded to what was going on in Libya, his own party called him out for insensitivity."
The Libya issue was among those that dominated Thursday’s debate between Vice President Joseph Biden and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), the GOP vice presidential nominee. It is expected to arise again Tuesday, when Obama and Romney will debate for a second time, this time in a town hall format moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley.