The presidential debate Tuesday between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney added new life to the fierce debate over the Obama administration’s mishandling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Sept. 11 attack by more than two dozen heavily armed terrorists killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The Obama administration initially insisted the attack was a spontaneous uprising by Muslims angry at an online video trailer about an anti-Islam film. That explanation persisted for more than a week, despite the fact that intelligence about the raid had indicated it was an al Qaeda-linked attack.
During the debate, Mr. Obama, with support from supposedly neutral moderator Candy Crowley, a CNN reporter, sought to defend the administration’s misleading claims about the attack by insisting his Rose Garden comments a day after the Benghazi attack showed he had called the attack a “an act of terror.”
“The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror,” Mr. Obama said in the debate.
A somewhat surprised Mr. Romney then asked Mr. Obama “is that what you’re saying” that the attack was terrorism from the start?
“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,” he said.
“Get the transcript,” Mr. Obama said.
Ms. Crowley then said to Mr. Romney: “It… he did, in fact, sir.”
But the transcript of the president’s remarks Sept. 12 shows he did not refer to the Benghazi killings that occurred a day earlier as terrorism, only as “an attack” and “senseless violence.” But Mr. Obama stopped short of saying terrorists had carried it out.
The only reference to terrorism came late in a prepared statement when he said that generally “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
In the following days, the president appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” and “The View” but declined, when asked, to say the attack was the result of terrorism.
Things got worse for the administration when Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, explicitly rejected terrorism as the cause, telling television interviewers Sept. 16 that the attack was a “spontaneous” reaction to the anti-Muslim video. She has since said she was given bad intelligence and was simply repeating what she had been told.
However, a U.S. intelligence official told Inside the Ring that the intelligence on the raid clearly pointed to al Qaeda from the earliest reports, based on highly classified intelligence showing clear links between the militia group blamed for the attack called Ansar al Sharia and al Qaeda.
“The American people don’t like to be lied to,” the official said.
The president and his administration have sought to tamp down criticism of the growing scandal, which is been dubbed “Benghazigate” on social media, by saying Mr. Obama took responsibility for the failures that have begun to threaten his re-election bid.