President Obama today said that he had not been aware of the requests for additional security made by security officials in Libya before the deadly attacks on U.S. diplomatic posts in Benghazi.
“I was not personally aware of any request,” the president told radio host Michael Smerconish. ”We have an infrastructure set up to manage requests like that but we’re going to find out what happened. Ultimately though any time there is a death of an American overseas I want to find out what happened because my most important job as President is to keep the American people safe.”
As ABC News has reported (HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE for example), myriad requests by security officials on the ground in Libya for additional manpower or resources were denied by the State Department.
The president pledged that his administration would “get to the bottom of what happened and most importantly we will make sure that those who carried it out, that they are captured.”
The president said that his preference for the killers of Ambassador Chris Stevens and the other three Americans would be to “bring them to justice” rather than to kill them. ” My efforts will be to see if we can roll up these networks who do harm to Americans anywhere in the world,” he said.
Smerconish noted that the official narrative about the attack had changed – from a spontaneous protest outside the consulate that got out of hand to a planned terrorist attack – and noted a Wall Street Journal report that the president’s daily briefings between September 13 and 21 affirmed that the attack had been a spontaneous protest. He asked if it was true that the president’s statements and those of others in the administration including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations were merely repeating what the PBD’s were telling them.
“What’s true is that the intelligence was coming in and evolving as more information came up,” the president replied. “And what is true, and this is something that the American people can take to the bank -is that my administration plays this stuff straight; we don’t play politics when it comes to American national security.”
He continued, saying that what “we have recently done throughout my presidency and what we did in this circumstance is as information came in we gave it to the American people and as we got new information we gave that to the American people. And that includes by the way members of American Congress, so one of the things that always frustrates me about this town is when people go out there and try to politicize issues despite knowing that we have given them all this information.”
Since Mitt Romney, as a major party presidential candidate, has been receiving intelligence briefings since September 17, presumably they would include some of the same information provided to the president, Smerconish wondered it it was therefore “disingenuous” for the Republican to have been making “political hay in terms to the shifting narrative?”
The president took the question as an opportunity to criticize Romney for the critical statement he issued while the Benghazi compound was still under attack.
“He certainly understood that when our diplomats are still under fire, not just in Benghazi but around the world -in Cairo, Pakistan, etc. — that if you aspire to be commander and chief you don’t release a political press release,” the president said. “You don’t have a political press conference that tries to take advantage of that opportunity, that is so reckless that even members of your own party criticize you for it and I think that what’s fair to say is when people look at how I’ve dealt with national security issues is we’ve made tough divisions even when it wasn’t politically convenient.”
Smerconish wondered if in the third debate “perhaps the reason he (Romney) took a pass at the first question that pertained to Libya and Benghazi is because at that time he knew his own briefings, like yours, reflected the belief initially that the protests spawned the attack?”
“Well, I’m not sure that Governor Romney was necessarily constrained by facts that he had received,” the president said. “Truth is that during the course of this campaign he hasn’t been restrained by facts much, period. I do think that they probably got a sense that the American people understand how I’ve operated over the past four years. The American people trust that I make decisions in a straightforward, steady way not in a reckless way and not in a political way. And I just don’t think that was getting a lot of political traction for them.”
The president said that “I take full responsibility for the fact I sent these folks into harm’s way. I want to make sure that they are always safe and when that doesn’t happen we figure out what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. My biggest priority right now is bringing those folks to justice and I think the American people have seen that is a commitment I always keep.”