U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is answering Republican criticism of the Obama administration's handling of last month's attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, saying she — not the White House — is responsible for security at all of America's diplomatic missions.
With only weeks before the presidential election, outrage has crystallized around Vice President Joe Biden's claim in last week's debate with Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan that "we weren't told" about requests for extra security at the consulate where assailants killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.
Congressional hearings revealed that the State Department was aware of, and rejected, several requests for increased security in Benghazi. Spokesmen for both the State Department and the White House took pains Friday to make clear that Biden's "we" referred to the White House, where such requests would not go.
Clinton backed up Biden's assertion. "The president and the vice president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals," she said Monday.
Clinton told Fox News Channel that "the decisions about security are made by security professionals. But we're going to review everything to be sure we're doing what needs to be done in an increasingly risky environment."
There are three separate investigations into the attack going on now: an FBI probe into the deaths of the four Americans, an independent inquiry by a panel appointed by Clinton and the congressional hearings.
Initial reports attributed the cause of the violent attack as one of a number of spontaneous demonstrations in several Muslim countries over a film produced in the U.S. that denigrated the Prophet Muhammad. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, insisted in on a number of Sunday talk shows that the investigation up to that point showed no indication of a planned attack. Within days, the White House reversed its position, saying new findings indicated the attack was intentional and coordinated.
"In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there's always going to be confusion," Clinton told CNN. "And I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence. Everyone who spoke tried to give the information that they had. As time has gone on, that information has changed. We've gotten more detail, but that's not surprising. That always happens."
She added, "What I want to avoid is some kind of political gotcha or blame game."
Three Republican senators said Clinton's claim was "a laudable gesture," but they put the responsibility for the Benghazi attack and what they called "an escalating pattern of attacks this year in Benghazi" squarely on President Barack Obama and his national security team.
"If the president was truly not aware of this rising threat level in Benghazi, then we have lost confidence in his national security team, whose responsibility it is to keep the president informed," Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said in a statement released late Monday. "But if the President was aware of these earlier attacks in Benghazi prior to the events of September 11, 2012, then he bears full responsibility for any security failures that occurred."
Bloomberg News reported Sunday that Ambassador Stevens' father said he believes his son's death is being investigated adequately and said it would be "abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue."
Clinton agreed with the need to keep the Benghazi tragedy out of politics.
"I know that we're very close to an election," Clinton told CNN. "I want to just take a step back here and say from my own experience, we are at our best as Americans when we pull together. I've done that with Democratic presidents and Republican presidents."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.