Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Fox News today the president takes responsibility for embassy protection, 35 days after jihadis destroyed the U.S. facility in Benghazi and killed four Americans.
President Barack Obama “takes responsibility for the safety and security of all diplomats serving overseas,” Psaki told Shepard Smith.
The move likely is intended to mute suggestions by some Republicans that Obama is trying to pass the buck to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, his rival in 2008 Democratic primary.
But GOP advocates are still pushing for the president to explain his role in setting top-level security policy in Libya. Whether the president even knew of prior attacks on the facility, or the prior requests for extra security that were rejected by mid-level officials, remains unclear.
“It is either total incompetence, or … they’re not being straight with the American people,” New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte said on Tuesday.
“What did he know, when did he know it, and what did he do about it?” asked Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham.
The president has not addressed those questions publicly.
Psaki’s campaign announcement came six hours before Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney face off in a townhall event, and just one day after Clinton appeared to take full responsibility for the Sept. 11 defeat.
“I take responsibility,” Clinton claimed in a Oct. 15 CNN interview.
But Clinton also used the interview to push the blame onto lower-ranking State Department officials who were implementing the administration’s policy of downgrading security in Libya.
“The president and the vice president wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals, [who are] the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision,” she told CNN.
The poorly guarded, lightly fortified Benghazi facility was overrun Sept. 11 by a group of local jihadis, who also attacked another U.S facility nearby. The attackers killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, one civil servant and two guards.
Mid-level State Department officials told an Oct. 10 House hearing that they had reduced the U.S. guards at the facility from five to three, hired locals to work as unarmed or armed guards and denied requests from embassy officials for more guards.
The security downgrade was part of a top-level policy that sought to reduce security measures in Libya.
A March memo released during a Oct. 10 House hearing, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, showed that top officials had adopted a policy of minimizing the security dangers posed by local jihadi groups. Officials in the U.S. embassy in Tripoli were seeking “to transition from emergency to normalized security operations,” said the March 28 memo.
Under that policy, mid-level official rejected multiple embassy requests for extra security.
Vice President Joe Biden said Oct. 11 that the White House was unaware of the rejected requests.
“[Biden] wasn’t aware of the request, neither was the president,” Psaki said on Tuesday.
“That doesn’t change the fact that the president takes absolute responsibility for the safety and security of diplomats serving abroad, and that’s why he wants to get to the bottom of this [attack] more than anybody,” she claimed.