One Republican-allied group is using statements made by White House spokesman Jay Carney to discredit President Obama’s claim in Tuesday’s debate that he had quickly labeled the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi as an act of terrorism.
“President Obama clearly misled the American people last night on Benghazi. … [he] is trying to rewrite history, while the record unequivocally contradicts his claim,” said a statement from Jonathan Collegio, the communications director at the pro-GOP advocacy group American Crossroads.
The Libya issue was highlighted during the Oct. 16 town hall meeting, when Gov. Mitt Romney cited Obama’s reluctance to blame terrorism for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Obama immediately claimed he had called it a terror attack on Sept. 12, and the debate’s moderator Candy Crowley seemed to back him up.
But Obama’s town hall claim clashes with a statement from White House spokesman Jay Carney on Sept. 20, in which he said that “we hadn’t” labeled said the attack was an act of terrorism.
Carney’s admission came one day after Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center, told a congressional hearing on Sept. 19 that the assault was a terror attack.
The poorly guarded, lightly fortified Benghazi facility was overrun Sept. 11 by a group of local Islamic extremists, who also attacked another U.S facility nearby. The attacks killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, one civil servant and two guards.
According to the official transcript of Carney’s press conference, which took place on Air Force One en route to a campaign event in Miami, Carney was asked by a reporter for a response to Olsen’s statement:
“Q: No, I just hadn’t heard the White House say that this was an act of terrorism or a terrorist attack. And I just —
MR. CARNEY: I don’t think the fact that we hadn’t is not — as our NCTC Director testified yesterday, a number of different elements appear to have been involved in the attack.”
Carney’s “we hadn’t” statement “actually affirmed Gov. [Mitt] Romney’s position that the White House did not call the Benghazi attack an act of terrorism,” Collegio said.
Carney’s reluctance to blame “terrorism” was underlined by his continued effort to blame the attack on the little-known video.
“I would point you to a couple of things that Mr. Olsen said, which is that at this point it appears that a number of different elements were involved in the attack, including individuals connected to militant groups that are prevalent in Eastern Libya,” Carney said during the press conference.
“He also made clear that at this point, based on the information he has … [that] we have no information at this point that suggests that this was a significantly preplanned attack, but this was the result of opportunism, taking advantage of and exploiting what was happening as a result of reaction to the video that was found to be offensive.”