(WASHINGTON) — The Obama campaign Wednesday touted the president’s back-and-forth with Mitt Romney on Libya Tuesday night as “one of the best moments in recent debate history,” as the White House continued to defend the Obama administration’s handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
“The president made clear that being commander-in-chief is about being a leader and not about political gamesmanship,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling with president aboard Air Force One Wednesday.
Romney was “exposed as the guy who wanted to use Libya, use the tragedy overseas as a political football,” she added.
Speaking at the second presidential debate, the GOP nominee attacked the president for his administration’s changing characterizations of the assault, which killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration or, actually, whether it was a terrorist attack,” Romney said.
The Obama administration initially suggested the assault was linked to broader unrest in the region sparked by an amateur anti-Muslim film, but later admitted it was not precipitated by an anti-American protest at the consulate and termed it a “terrorist attack.”
At the debate, Obama noted that the day after the attack he delivered a statement in the White House Rose Garden describing it as “an act of terror.”
“I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror,” Romney said, to which the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, corrected that Obama “did, in fact” call it an act of terror.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Wednesday that Obama was specifically talking about the Benghazi attack when he mentioned “acts of terror” in his Rose Garden speech.
“Any time an embassy or diplomatic facility is attacked by force with weapons and Americans are killed, that is an act of terror,” Carney said. “It was not an accident that the president spoke of acts of terror in the Rose Garden.”
Further, Carney said, Obama mentioned it as terror on several more occasions “within the next several days,” and he reiterated again that the administration has been as transparent and forthcoming as it can be given the nature of the attack and intelligence gathering in its aftermath.
Asked why, if it had been so transparent, were questions still mounting about the administration’s handling of the situation, Carney offered two reasons. One, the intelligence has evolved and changed over time, Carney said. And, two, he said, “There was a clear attempt from the hours after the attack in Benghazi by critics of the president led by Gov. Romney to try to score political points out of this tragedy.”
Pressed as to why the administration felt the need for both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama, over the last few days, to clarify that they were ultimately responsible for the U.S. response to the attack, Carney partially blamed their political foes.
“In part, because of the effort by Republicans to politicize [the issue],” Carney said, “but also because this is a very serious and tragic incident.”
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