The White House scrambled Friday to explain Vice President Biden’s confusing statement that “we weren’t told” of requests for more diplomatic security in Libya, claiming he was referring only to “himself” and President Obama.
Biden, during Thursday’s debate, had made the controversial statement in response to criticism from Paul Ryan about the protection of diplomatic posts in Libya in the run-up to the Sept. 11 terror attack.
Moderator Martha Raddatz pressed him: “And they wanted more security there.”
But Biden responded: “Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again.”
The comment drew swift rebukes from Republicans who pointed out that State Department officials just one day earlier had acknowledged they knew about, and turned down, requests for more security. Ryan, minutes later in the debate, corrected the vice president, saying “there were requests for extra security; those requests were not honored.”
But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Biden “wasn’t talking about the administration writ large,” just the White House.
“He was speaking directly for himself and for the president. He meant the White House,” Carney said. He claimed it was “very clear” in context, while continuing to accuse Republicans of twisting the tragedy into a “political attack.”
In doing so, Carney not only came to the defense of Biden, but used his clarification to effectively insulate the White House from questions about the decision-making process. While refusing to say whether Obama and Biden were ever briefed on the security requests in Benghazi, Carney made clear that decisions on personnel were handled below them, at the State Department level.
“These kinds of issues are handled in the State Department,” he said.
“What I’m saying is that matters of security personnel are appropriately discussed and decided upon at the State Department.”
Biden, though, was not explicit Thursday in saying he was only talking about his and Obama’s personal knowledge of the security requests.
Mitt Romney, at a campaign rally Friday afternoon in Virginia, still asserted that Biden had “directly contradicted” State Department testimony.
“He’s doubling down on denial, and we need to understand exactly what happened,” Romney said.
In addition to raising eyebrows over that comment, the vice president went a step further Thursday and threw the intelligence community under the bus — putting the blame squarely on their shoulders for the faulty narrative, pushed for more than a week by the administration, that the attack was a protest spun out of control.
“That was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment,” Biden said.
State Department officials who testified Wednesday suggested as well that when U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice claimed the Sunday after the attack that protests over an anti-Islam film were to blame, she was merely basing her comments on the intelligence at the time.
However, lawmakers by that point had been publicly challenging the notion that the protests were a factor. And sources have since confirmed that some in the intelligence community were pointing to terrorism within 24 hours of the attack.