Deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on Monday defended the administration’s response to last month’s attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, saying that the ongoing investigation had been a “very transparent process.”
“The president has been clear it was a terrible tragedy that took place in Benghazi; we lost four American lives. He initiated an investigation to get to the bottom of it, of what happened and how we can keep our embassies safe all over the country,” said Cutter in an interview on NBC’s “Today.”
Cutter’s comments come on the eve of Monday night’s final presidential debate, where GOP challenger Mitt Romney is expected to continue to hit the president over the deadly assault.
Romney and congressional Republicans have charged the White House with taking too long to label the assault a terrorist act and have questioned whether requests for heightened security by diplomats on the ground were rejected ahead of the attack.
Administration officials initially said the attack was sparked by anti-American anger after a film critical of Islam was posted on the Internet. Later, the White House said the attack appeared to have been planned in advance. Officials, though, say they were forthcoming about all intelligence and that the initial explanation was based on what was known at the time.
On Friday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who has launched a probe into the attack, issued a sharply worded letter to the president, calling on him to explain security decisions in Libya before the attack.
Democrats, though, have charged Republicans with using the incident to score political points ahead of Election Day.
Asked if the president would “concede that this was a foreign-policy failure,” Cutter on Monday said no.
“We live in a dangerous world — any time American lives are lost it’s a terrible tragedy and the president acted quickly to make sure that every other embassy was protected. We’re getting to the bottom of this and we need to work this investigation through. It’s really important that we not politicize this process.”
Cutter also denied a New York Times report that the administration and Tehran had agreed on resuming one-on-one negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
She said the focus was still on the P5+1 joint talks and touted the administration’s “historic sanctions,” which she said had weakened the Iranian regime.
“The White House said it’s not true, there’s nothing scheduled. We are part of that global process, we’re making real results in Iran. … The economy is being crippled to its knees, there is political unrest. We are in a stronger position today because the president led on this, he put together our partners, we didn’t go it alone,” said Cutter.
Cutter also addressed the slew of polls showing a tight race with a little over two weeks to the election, saying that the campaign had expected a close fight all along and that Monday’s final debate would be critical.
“This is a tight race all over the country; it really comes down to a small segment of undecided voters and I think tonight will be very important in terms of helping people make their decisions,” she said.
“It comes down to state by state — the ground game is incredibly important at this moment,” Cutter added.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Sunday showed Obama and Romney locked in a 47-47 tie among likely voters nationally.