The Washington Post

Sharp words over Libya

In one of the sharpest exchanges of the night, President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney clashed over whether the White House misled Americans about the nature of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, with the president bristling at the suggestion that he had withheld critical facts about the incident.

"The suggestion that anyone on my team ... would play politics or mislead is offensive," said Obama, his voice rising. Romney did not directly accuse the president of shading the truth about the attack, but said, "You have to ask yourself why we didn't know" earlier that the storming of the consulate was an act of terrorism and not the spontaneous outgrowth of protests against an anti-Muslim video posted days earlier on YouTube.

Witnesses to the attack would later say that there had been no demonstrations prior to the assault that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens. Romney portrayed the administration's handling of the incident as emblematic of what he said was Obama's flawed Middle East policy, contending the the administration had failed to show leadership in the Syrian conflict and nuclear standoff.

The two then wrangled over whether Obama had referred to the attack as "terrorism" in his first news conference about the incident on Sept. 12. Romney insisted that Obama had not, but both Obama and debate moderator Candy Crowley said that he did. A video of the Sept. 12 statement by the president included the words, "No act of terror will ever shake the resolve of this country."

Joby Warrick joined the Post’s national staff in 1996. He has covered national security, intelligence and the Middle East, and currently writes about the environment.

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