By Sean Sullivan
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has made a concerted effort to exploit the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya for political gain, David Axelrod charged Sunday.
There “is no doubt he is working hard to exploit this issue,” Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser to President Obama, said of Romney in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
The attack last month in Benghazi claimed the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The administration initially said it appeared to be a spontaneous attack but later declared the assault an act of terrorism, prompting an outcry from Republicans about the inconsistent assessment.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services committee, suggested Sunday that the Obama administration deliberately misled the public about the nature of the attack in Benghazi.
“I think they’ve been misleading us, but it finally caught up with them,” Graham said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”
Graham argued that in the immediate aftermath of the attack, there was clear evidence — including a communication from the intelligence community on the ground in Libya to officials in Washington — to suggest the incident was an act of terrorism, not a spontaneous assault.
“Either they’re misleading the American people or incredibly incompetent,” Graham said. “There was no way with anybody looking at all that you could believe five days after the attack it was based on a riot that never occurred. There was no riot at all, so to say that you’re either very incompetent or you’re misleading.”
The State Department acknowledged last week that it rejected appeals for more security in Libya in the months preceding the attack. Vice President Biden said during a Thursday debate with Republican vice-
presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) that “we weren’t told they wanted more security there.” Axelrod on Sunday said that “we” referred to Biden and Obama.
“I think what he was talking about was what he and the president knew, because these matters were being handled at the State Department,” Axelrod said.
“I guess we will accept that explanation,” senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said on the same program.
“ ‘We’ generally means our administration. What we are seeing here is an effort by Obama and Biden saying, ‘No, it was the State Department.’ ”
U.S. efforts to investigate the Benghazi attack have been hampered by the political situation in Libya, where key ministries have been on autopilot as politicians have struggled to form the country’s first democratically elected government since the death nearly a year ago of longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi.
On Sunday, the General National Congress elected Ali Zidan, a human rights lawyer, as the new prime minister. His selection followed the dismissal last week of another prime minister, Mustafa Abushagur, who was unable to form a cabinet.