On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama said he called up his national security team by phone while the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was being attacked, but did not say that he held a meeting before he flew to a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
“As soon as we found out that the Benghazi consulate was being overrun, I was on the phone with my national security team and I gave them three instructions,” Obama told a questioner during the town hall debate in Hofstra University.
The president’s mention of a phone call — not a formal meeting in the White House — with his national security team may fuel Republican accusations that the president is more focused on his re-election campaign than national security.
The day after the attack, Obama used Air Force One to go on a campaign trip to Nevada and Colorado.
Much of the media’s focus on the debate was on the argument between Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney over whether Obama had labelled the Sept. 11, 2012 attack as a particular act of “terror.”
Prior to the Sept. 11 jihadi attack on the Benghazi facility that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Obama had scaled back his meetings with intelligence officials.
On Sept. 10, 2012, Marc Thiessen, a Washington Post columnist and a Republican, cited a report by the Government Accountability Institute to bolster his argument that “national security has not necessarily been the personal priority the president makes it out to be.”
“During his first 1,225 days in office, Obama attended his PDB just 536 times — or 43.8 percent of the time. During 2011 and the first half of 2012, his attendance became even less frequent — falling to just over 38 percent,” Thiessen wrote.
But Obama chose to read daily intelligence briefings by himself, White House officials countered.
After the Sept 11, 2012 attack, he stepped up his meetings with intelligence officials, according to his official calendar.
During the town hall debate, Obama said he used his phone call with his national security advisers to direct an immediate response to the attack.
“I gave them three instructions,” he said. “Number one, beef up our security and procedures, not just in Libya, but at every embassy and consulate in the region,” Obama said. “Number two, investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure folks are held accountable and it doesn’t happen again. And number three, we are going to find out who did this and we’re going to hunt them down, because one of the things that I’ve said throughout my presidency is when folks mess with Americans, we go after them.”