October 12, 2012 -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended the early response from the Obama administration regarding the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.
But she would not weigh in on the growing controversy about when exactly members of the Obama administration knew the Sept. 11 attack on the consulate was carried out by terrorists or whether senior administration members knew that State Department security officials were concerned about the situation at the embassy in the months leading up to the attack.
Clinton took questions from reporters following a bilateral meeting with the Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant'Agata, and was asked about Vice President Joe Biden's assertion during Thursday night's debate that the administration was unaware of requests for increased security at the consulate.
Biden's comment would seem to be contradicted by testimony a day earlier on Capitol Hill from a State Department security official that he had repeatedly requested more security.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters today that the vice president was not speaking about the administration as a whole, but about the White House specifically. Carney said that security decisions for individual U.S. embassies and consulates are determined by the State Department and not the Oval Office. He accused Representative Ryan and the Romney campaign of politicizing the attack and misleading the American public.
"I think the attack by -- and what has largely been a political attack by Republicans, in this case by Congressman Ryan, was to try to suggest that the president and the White House was responsible for assessing security in a diplomatic facility in Benghazi," said Carney. "The lack of understanding about how this works may explain why Congressman Ryan consistently supported and authored budgets that slashed spending for diplomatic security, and he now takes a different position on these matters in the aftermath, which is clearly part of an effort to politicize what should not be politicized."
Secretary Clinton said today that State Department is in the beginning stages of an internal investigation on the attack. She said the FBI investigation is continuing as well, and that she is cooperating with both.
"There is much we still don't know, and I am the first to say that," she said.
"There is nobody in the administration motivated by anything other than trying to understand what happened," said Clinton. "We are doing all we can to prevent it from ever happening again anywhere."
But Clinton said the circumstances surrounding the attack are still, more than a month later, not completely clear.
"To this day we do not have a complete picture, we do not have all the answers," she said. "No one in this administration has ever claimed otherwise. Every one of us have made clear that we are providing the best information we have at that time. And that information continues to be updated. It also continues to be put into context and more deeply understood."
Early on, and for more than a week after the attack, members of the administration suggested the attacks were the result of a protest gone awry even though it has become clear that the attack was a coordinated terror attack and there never was a protest.
While President Obama referred to "acts of terror" in a speech the day after the attack in the Rose Garden at the White House, officials did not label it terrorism until nine days later.
Administration officials such as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, in an appearance on This Week, and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney suggested in the following days that according to the intelligence community there had been a protest.
Today Clinton defended Rice.
"Ambassador Rice had the same information from the intelligence community that every other senior official did," said Clinton. "We can only tell you what we know based on our most current understanding of the attack and what led up to it."
Republicans have seized on the attack and the subsequent administration response as a failure.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP candidate for vice president, countered Biden at the debate and said the Benghazi attack is evidence of the Obama foreign policy's "unraveling."
Others, like Sen. Mitch McConnell, in an interview Wednesday with ABC News, have more bluntly suggested a cover-up.
"It leaves you with the suspicion that since the president was in the campaign going around reminding everybody that bin Laden was gone and we were out of Iraq and we would soon be out of Afghanistan and implying that the war on terror was over that the campaign just felt it was inconvenient that we had a terrorist attack," McConnell said.
While giving a speech today on the progress of democratic transitions across North Africa, Secretary Clinton was solemn and resolute about how the State Department views the tragedy in Benghazi, growing emotional when she talked about the reaction from the Libyan people.
"Tens of thousands of Libyans poured into the streets to mourn Ambassador Stevens, who had been a steadfast champion of their revolution," she said. "One sign read, 'Thugs and killers don't represent Benghazi nor Islam.' On their own initiative, the people of Benghazi overran extremist bases and insisted that militias disarm and accept the rule of law. It was as inspiring a sight as any we saw in the revolutions."
In her speech Clinton seemed to answer critics who say that Washington did not do enough to protect the consulate staff, including Stevens. Clinton pointed out that the State Department sends people to diplomatic posts in over 170 countries, several are in war zones or in unstable countries where there is no U.S. military presence.
"We will never prevent every act of violence or terrorism, or achieve perfect security. Our people can't live in bunkers and do their jobs," said Clinton. "But it is our solemn responsibility to constantly improve, to reduce the risks our people face and make sure they have the resources they need to do their jobs. Nobody takes that responsibility more seriously than I and the security professionals at the State Department do."
ABC News's Jon Garcia contributed to this report.