Published December 23, 2015
The night after the first murder of an American ambassador in more than three decades, President Obama flew to Vegas for a campaign stop. The next day, he was rallying a crowd in Colorado. The campaign continues to make plans for swing-state visits next week in Ohio and Florida.
Yet as more information emerges indicating the attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, may have been a coordinated terror strike -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is the latest to declare it a "terrorist attack" -- some are questioning whether the president is acknowledging the severity of the situation.
"We've seen numerous reports now of a growing intelligence trail that this was a planned attack," said Richard Grenell, who served briefly as a national security spokesman for Mitt Romney and used to work for the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush. Grenell questioned Obama's recent campaigns stops and media interviews in light of the tragedy.
To be sure, the Romney campaign has not stopped campaigning either. The ads are being aired, and fundraisers and rallies attended on both sides at a furious pace. The Romney campaign, looking to gain a political edge on the foreign policy front, has taken to calling the administration's handling of the crisis "amateur hour."
But Republicans outside the Romney campaign are also calling for a tougher response out of Obama, and calling into question the explanation that the heavily armed attackers were merely protesting over an anti-Islam film.
"They've got to get out of campaign mode and get into leadership mode," said Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., a member of the House Armed Services Committee. "And they really haven't done that, they haven't done it in this situation."
McCain, after an intelligence briefing Friday, said the Libya strike was carried out by terrorists and not a mere out-of-control mob.
As riots continue to rage outside U.S. diplomatic posts in other countries including Egypt, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., told Fox News Thursday night that the U.S. needs to take a "harsh diplomatic stance" -- first by closing down these embassies.
"You have to understand that a sovereign piece of the United States was attacked," he said. "So, this is a blatant attack. It has nothing to do with this silly Facebook video that came out six months ago."
Speculation about the true root of the attack grew following a report in Britain's Independent claiming officials believe the attack was planned, that the State Department may have had warnings in advance and that sensitive documents have since gone missing from the Benghazi consulate.
The Obama administration pushed back on the report.
A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence called the article "absolutely wrong."
"We are not aware of any actionable intelligence indicating that an attack on the U.S. Post in Benghazi was planned or imminent," he said.
"We have no intelligence suggesting this attack was premeditated," another U.S. official told FoxNews.com.
Yet a State Department official reportedly told lawmakers Wednesday that he did think the assault was planned. And other lawmakers and analysts have reached the same conclusion. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told Fox News shortly after the attack that it was clearly "coordinated." His account was backed up by a Libyan official Thursday who said it was a two-stage operation.
The second stage involved an attack on a separate building that Americans consulate employees tried to take shelter in after the main building came under fire at 10 p.m. local time Tuesday. Two of the four Americans who died were killed in that second phase of the attack.
The Independent report quoted a Libyan troop leader who assisted in the rescue operation that night saying "I don't know how they found the place to carry out the attack. It was planned, the accuracy with which the mortars hit us was too good for any ordinary revolutionaries."
Eastern Libya's deputy interior minister was quoted Thursday saying the attacks may have been timed for the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Seth Jones, former adviser at U.S. Special Operations Command, connected it to a call by Al Qaeda's leader to avenge the drone-strike killing of a terror operative in Pakistan.
"This was not just about any sort of a spontaneous revolt. This was an organized attack," he said.
After a week on the campaign trail, Obama is back in Washington Friday, though he does have a private campaign event planned for Friday evening.
He spoke by phone with the leaders of both Libya and Egypt following attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts there. And the president gave a rare classified briefing to the top four congressional leaders Thursday on the developments.
The Romney campaign, though, is criticizing the president's approach -- not just this week, but over the course of his administration.
"There's a pretty compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you'd be in a different situation," Romney foreign policy adviser Richard Williamson told The Washington Post, claiming "respect for America has gone down." He called it "amateur hour."
In response, the Obama campaign repeated the argument that Romney is improperly politicizing a sensitive situation. They made that argument after Romney on Tuesday night issued a controversial statement criticizing the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for allegedly expressing sympathy toward those protesting the anti-Islam film.
"It is astonishing that the Romney campaign continues to shamelessly politicize a sensitive international situation," the Obama campaign said in a statement Friday. "The fact is that any president of either party is going to be confronted by crises while in office, and Governor Romney continues to demonstrate that he is not at all prepared to manage them."
FoxNews.com's Judson Berger and Fox News' Catherine Herridge and Wes Barrett contributed to this report.