Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told CNN in an interview Monday that she—not the White House—takes responsibility for the security situation in Benghazi, Libya, ahead of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack there that claimed the lives of four Americans, including the ambassador.
"I take responsibility," Clinton told CNN in one of a series of television interviews she gave after arriving in Peru. The comments from America's top diplomat came on the eve of President Barack Obama's second debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney, a face-off that seemed likely to include questions about the administration's handling of the bloody assault.
"I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha" with just three weeks before the election, Clinton said, underlining that she—not Obama and Vice President Joe Biden—has the final word on security at America's diplomatic posts overseas.
The White House took heavy fire from Republicans for blaming the attack on Muslim anger at an Internet video ridiculing Islam—even though intelligence officials from the U.S., France, Britain and Italy had quickly labeled the assault an act of terrorism.
And Biden stoked the controversy when he said, in his debate with Republican rival Paul Ryan last week, that "we weren't told" of requests for more security on the ground. State Department officials had testified that such requests had been denied by Washington.
U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was slain in the onslaught, making him the first American ambassador killed in such an attack since 1979. Romney has led Republican charges that the strike is a symptom of Obama's "unraveling" foreign policy.
In the CNN interview, Clinton blamed "confusion" after the attack for the initial focus on the video, which has fueled angry demonstrations across the Muslim world. The State Department has said it never blamed demonstrations for the bloodshed in Benghazi. The White House has said that the intelligence community initially believed that the film had played a role.
Clinton also said that while she would work to improve diplomatic security, "we cannot retreat" from the world. "We can't not engage," she said.