Mitt Romney spoke as if he had President Obama cornered.
“The President just said something which is that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror,” the Republican presidential nominee said, turning to face Obama during Tuesday night’s debate. “You said in the Rose Garden, the day after the attack, it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration. Is that what you’re saying? Want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the President 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
But Romney did not land the square punch he thought he was throwing. On Sept. 12, the day after four Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, the President did say, during remarks delivered in the White House’s Rose Garden, that “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” Those words were enough, during the debate, for Obama, with the help of a fact-check from the debate moderator, Candy Crowley, to dodge Romney’s blow.
If you had been listening to Republicans or watching Fox News in recent weeks, you knew that what Romney said wasn’t simply an off-the-cuff or clumsy error. For weeks now, opponents of the administration have been trying to paint the Benghazi attack not just as a possible security or intelligence failure that resulted in the deaths of Americans abroad, but as a scandal that the Obama administration tried to cover-up.
The administration’s critics have seized, in particular, on comments made by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on Sept. 16, five days after the attack. In appearances on Sunday talk shows that day, Rice said the latest assessment was that the attack was not premeditated, and that it had been related to demonstrations that occurred in Egypt (and subsequently in several other Middle Eastern countries) in response to “Innocence of Muslims,” a crude and offensive anti-Muslim film made in California and uploaded to YouTube this summer.