By Julian Pecquet - 11/05/12 04:38 PM EST
Republicans pounced Monday after CBS News released portions of a “60 Minutes” interview with President Obama that shows him hedging on whether to call the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, an act of terrorism.
"'60 Minutes' shld b renamed '59 Minutes',” wrote Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary to President George W. Bush. “They wait until it's almost over 2break news that wld hv been significant earlier.”
Republicans have argued that the administration deliberately avoided using the word "terrorism" for several weeks after the attack in order to preserve Obama's poll lead over Republican nominee Mitt Romney on national security issues.
However, Romney stopped using the issue to attack Obama after the president pointed out during their second debate that he'd called the attack an “act of terror” during a speech the next day in the Rose Garden.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died in the assault on the consulate.
The “60 Minutes” outtake, which was first reported on by Fox News after CBS released it Sunday evening, shows the president declining to call the attack terrorism during an interview with the network right after his Rose Garden address.
“Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya attack,” correspondent Steve Kroft asks the president. “Do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?”
“Well, it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans,” Obama answered. “And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.”
The administration said its initial description of the attack, that it was linked to an anti-Islam video made in the U.S., was the result of intelligence available at the time.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the first high-ranking administration official to directly call it a “terrorist attack,” on Sept. 21.