White House Defends Changing Rhetoric On Libya Attack

The White House today rejected criticism of the Obama administration's response and changing rhetoric regarding the deadly Sept. 11 assault on the U.S. consulate in Libya as "unfortunate" attempts to politicize the attack.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president is "absolutely focused on finding out exactly what happened."

GOP nominee Mitt Romney has noted the administration's rhetorical evolution - from saying the attack was a spontaneous act to now admitting that it was an act of terrorism - and accused the president of not wanting to "level with the American people" or come "clean" with what really happened in assault.

"There has been an attempt by Republicans, beginning with Governor Romney, to try to turn this event into a partisan issue-to try to score political points out of a terrorist attack that cost the lives of four Americans including our ambassador to Libya. And that is unfortunate," Carney told reporters today.

The White House initially linked the attack to broader protests in the region sparked by an amateur anti-Islamic movie. "We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack," Carney told reporters on September 14. "The unrest we've seen around the region has been in reaction to a video that Muslims, many Muslims find offensive. And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy."

Two weeks later, however, the White House says the president believes the assault was a "terrorist attack," a term Obama has not used in his descriptions of the violence.

"I'm the president's spokesman," Carney said today. "It has been since I said so, the president's position that this is a terrorist attack."

The president conceded Monday in an interview on ABC's "The View" that "there is no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the on-going assault, that it wasn't just a mob action."

Asked why the president declined to publicly describe the violence as a terrorist attack, Carney said he was "simply answering a question."

"He bases his judgments on matters like this on the assessments that he's provided by the intelligence community," he said.

-Mary Bruce, Ann Compton, Jon Garcia