By Julian Pecquet - 10/12/12 01:44 AM EDT
Vice President Biden blamed intelligence officials for the administration's changing account of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, during Thursday night's debate with Rep. Paul RyanPaul RyanApple's Tim Cook to hold fundraiser for Clinton Reid: Congress should return 'immediately' to fight Zika Classified briefings to begin for Clinton, Trump MORE (R-Wis.).
The Obama administration has been under fire for initially linking the attack on the U.S. Consulate to an anti-Islam video made in the U.S. before later acknowledging that that the attack was an act of terrorism, not a protest that turned violent.
Biden said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was repeating what intelligence sources had told her when she blamed the video as a “proximate cause” of the violence in an interview five days after the attack.
“The intelligence community told us that,” Biden said. “As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment.”
The vice president attacked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for weighing in on the violence in Libya before it was known that Ambassador Christopher Stevens was among four Americans that had been killed.
“That's not presidential leadership,” Biden said.
Ryan said it was clear from the start that it was an act of terrorism and ripped the administration for focusing on the YouTube video in the days after the assault.
“It took the president two weeks to acknowledge this was a terrorist attack,” Ryan said. “He went to the U.N. and in his speech at the U.N. [on Sept. 25] six times talked about the You Tube video.
“Look, if we are hit by terrorists, we are going to call it for what it is: a terrorist attack.”
Biden was also questioned about statements from officials stationed in Libya who said they had repeatedly asked the administration for more security at the consulate.
"Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there," Biden said. "We did not know they wanted more security."
Biden's statement directly contradicts the testimony of two security officers who were based in Libya earlier this year. Lt. Col. Andy Wood, the head of a 16-person Special Forces team that left in August, and State Department regional security officer Eric Nordstorm said Wednesday that they repeatedly asked for beefed up security but were turned down.
“The takeaway … for me and my staff, was abundantly clear — we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident,” Nordstrom said at a hearing of the House oversight panel. “And the question that we would ask is: how thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?”
Ryan also slammed Obama campaign official Stephanie Cutter's statement earlier Thursday that the “entire reason that [Libya] has become the, you know, political topic it is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.”
“This is becoming more troubling by the day,” Ryan said. “They first blamed the YouTube video; now they're trying to blame the Romney-Ryan ticket for making this an issue.”
Romney singled out Cutter at a political event in North Carolina earlier in the day, saying the attack in Libya is an issue "because this is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated.”
— This post was updated at 10:45 p.m.