“There were more questions that came out last night because the vice president directly contradicted the testimony of State Department officials,” Romney told supporters Friday at a campaign event in Richmond. “American citizens have a right to know just what’s going on.”
Earlier in the week, State Department officials had said that they had not received reports of protests outside the compound before the killings. But Biden said the explanation that the attacks grew from a protest — rather than from terrorists determined to hit the consulate — persisted “because that’s exactly what we were told” by intelligence officials.
After trying for weeks to portray the deaths in Benghazi as part of a larger failure of Obama’s foreign policy, Republicans now sense their first real opening on national security, an area that has long been considered one of the president’s strengths. It was an unexpected twist that the administration seemed to grow more vulnerable following the debate between Biden, a veteran of global diplomacy and the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Ryan, a relative novice whose expertise is the domestic budget.
Obama officials moved swiftly Friday to blunt further fallout, first during the White House briefing and later in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“There is nobody in the administration motivated by anything other than trying to understand what happened,” Clinton said. “We do not have all the answers. No one in this administration has ever claimed otherwise.”
In Thursday’s debate, Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan raised the possibility that the White House had blamed the attacks on anti-American protests at first because a successful terrorist attack would blemish Obama’s national security credentials. The successful killing of Osama bin Laden is a stock Obama campaign theme, and he frequently tells audiences that his administration has al-Qaeda “on its heels.”
“Look, if we are hit by terrorists, we’re going to call it for what it is — a terrorist attack,” Ryan said. Romney continued that theme Friday, telling voters at a campaign rally that he would investigate the varying accounts.
There are multiple investigations into the attack: an FBI probe into the deaths of the four Americans, an independent inquiry by a panel appointed by Clinton and at least two congressional probes.