White House pushes back after Biden debate remarks on Libya

The Obama administration sought to push back at GOP assertions Friday that it bungled security at the Libya consulate where four Americans were killed last month.

The White House argued President Obama and Vice President Biden did not know of requests for additional security, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was impossible to provide “perfect security” in a dangerous world.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney seized on comments at Thursday’s debate by Biden to grab an advantage.

Defending his administration from criticism from GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, Biden said the White House wasn’t told diplomats in Libya needed more security.

“We weren’t told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security there,” he said.

But Biden’s comments differed from testimony given to a House panel the day before by State Department officials who said they had requested more security.

"The vice president directly contradicted the sworn testimony of State Department officials," Romney said at a rally in Richmond, Va. "He's doubling down on denial, and we need to understand exactly what happened instead of just brush things aside."

The assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, that left U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans dead has created political problems for Obama’s campaign, which points to a largely successful war on terrorism as a strength of Obama’s presidency.

Romney’s campaign argues the Libya attack raises questions about Obama’s handling of security and foreign relations. In a Monday speech, Romney argues the world is a more dangerous place now than it was when Obama entered office.

Biden’s remarks forced the White House to explain the discrepancy between his remarks and the earlier testimony. They said the requests had simply not made their way up the chain to Obama and Biden.

"He was speaking directly for himself and for the president," White House spokesman Jay Carney said of Biden at his daily briefing on Friday.

“If you look at the testimony there was no talk of request for personnel made here" at the White House, Carney said. “These kinds of issues are handled in the State Department by security professionals.”

Deputy National Security adviser Ben Rhodes separately told Foreign Policy’s The Cable blog that State Department officials who told a congressional panel of the requests never said they made their requests to the president. He also noted that the requests were for more security in Tripoli, not Benghazi, where the attack on the U.S. Consulate was made.

“We have been very transparent about what we know,” Carney said, adding that the administration “gained a clearer picture” as they found out more information in recent weeks.

Carney said there was “no actionable intelligence” that would indicate an attack was being planned, but would not get into the details of that information.

Clinton in an otherwise upbeat speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies conference said ensuring the complete safety of diplomats is impossible if they are to do their jobs.

“We will never prevent every act of violence or terrorism, or achieve perfect security,” Clinton said. “Our people cannot live in bunkers and do their jobs.”

“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 those jobs we expect from them.”

Former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden on Friday criticized Biden’s own implicit criticism of intelligence agencies.

Hayden, who led the CIA for three years under the George W. Bush White House, said the administration had no one to blame but itself for its flawed explanation of the Benghazi attack.

“It is clear that any failure was not on the part of the intelligence community, but on the part of White House decision-makers who should have listened to, and acted on, available intelligence,” Hayden said in a joint statement with former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff issued Friday. “Blaming those who put their lives on the line is not the kind of leadership this country needs,” Hayden added.

Carney, for his part, slapped at Romney and Republicans for politicizing the attack and for budget cuts that he said reduced diplomatic security.

At his briefing, he said he found it "rich" that Republicans would try and politicize the issue of the attack on the Libya consulate when they "routinely" slash funding for security to pay for tax cuts.

This story was posted at 11:36 a.m. and updated at 4:20 p.m.