Vice President Joe Biden pledged a full investigation Thursday into the Libya attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but accused Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan of rushing to politicize the incident.
“I can make absolutely two commitments,” Biden said during the vice presidential debate in Kentucky. First, that “we will find and bring to justice the men who did this” and second, that whatever the government finds went wrong, they’ll “make clear to the American public that whatever mistakes were made will not be made again.”
But he accused Romney, who claimed the night of the attacks that Obama’s response was to “sympathize” with terrorists, of deliberately exploiting the attacks for political gain.
Ryan said, “on that same day the Obama administration had the exact same position,” referring to a statement by the U.S. embassy in in Cairo before any attacks occurred that the State Department later disavowed. Romney inaccurately suggested at the time that the embassy statement either referred to the Libya attacks or was issued after riots at the Cairo embassy.
“Usually, when there’s a crisis, we pull together as a nation … the governor was holding a press conference,” Biden said.
But Ryan and moderator Martha Raddatz each pressed Biden over initial statements from the administration suggesting the attack was connected to protests over an anti-Muslim film posted to YouTube. The Libya attack has since been confirmed by the federal government to be part of a pre-planned terrorist plot.
“Look, if we’re hit by terrorists we’re going to call it for what it is: a terrorist attack,” Ryan said.
Biden said conflicting administration statements reflected initial intelligence reports, which the Director of National Intelligence’s office said last month suggested attackers exploited protests only to change that assessment as more evidence came out.
But pressed why there wasn’t greater security, Biden said “we weren’t told they wanted more security.” That claim is currently facing tough scrutiny as Congress looks into whether requests for security by officials on the ground in Libya might have mitigated the attack.
Update: TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro caught up with Obama campaign manager Jim Messina after the debate and asked him about Biden’s Libya answer as to whether the administration was asked for more security.
“We have been honest with the American people repeatedly on what we knew, when we knew it and we’ll get the facts and make sure if there’s things we need to improve in the future, thats what we’ll do,” he said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.