Democrats on Sunday defended the administration’s response to the fatal attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya, while shrugging off a Republican accusation about a possible cover-up and accusing Mitt Romney of trying to “exploit” the issue.
Senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on “Fox News Sunday” that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, several days after the attack, and Vice President Joe Biden last week gave information based on what they knew at the time.
Biden said during a vice presidential debate Tuesday that “we weren’t told” about a request for more security in Libya.
“Sometimes the intelligence has to catch up with what’s on the ground,” said David Axelrod, senior Obama campaign adviser.
Axelrod said Biden “was talking about what the White House knew,” not about the Defense Department and the rest of the administration.
Rice said five days after the Sept. 11 attack in which U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi that the strike was “spontaneous” and a response to an anti-Islamic video.
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The administration later acknowledged the strike was pre-planned and a terror attack.
“Anybody would have said the same thing,” Axelrod told Fox News. “That was the intelligence we were receiving.”
He also said that before any facts were known Romney was “cravenly trying to exploit” the incident.
Later in the day, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the administration is trying to keep voters from questioning Obama's handling of the war on terror.
“Either they are misleading the American people or they are incredibly incompetent, he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
The South Carolina senator also said he thinks the administration knew within 24 hours that the Benghazi attack was a coordinated assault but wanted people to think the president had dismantled al Qaeda.
The White House declined to comment on the charge. But Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House committee investigating the attack, dismissing Graham’s suggestion as "conspiracy stuff."
Cummings also said the country “can do better” protecting its diplomatic corps but suggested the questioning is “turning into a witch hunt.”
Axelrod said the president, as commander in chief, takes “personally” the tragedy and future efforts to protect Americans across the world.
“There is nobody on this planet more concerned about getting to the bottom of this than the president,” he said.
The remark echoed what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said in the aftermath of the attack.
Axelrod said the Benghazi attack is “not a matter of blaming anyone” and that “sometimes the intelligence has to catch up with what’s on the ground.”
He also said Obama met with the security team on the day after the attack before going to a campaign fundraiser to Las Vegas.
“I assure you that the president was in contact with all those who had information and responsibility in the national security chain,” Axelrod said.