President Barack Obama's deputy re-election campaign manager argued Thursday that the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, has become "the political topic it is" only because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
In a combative interview with CNN, Stephanie Cutter sidestepped questions about why Obama did not label the attack "terrorism" days after other top officials had done so.
(Aides have noted that the president vowed in his first public remarks on the Sept. 11 attack to stand up to "acts of terror." And a knowledgeable source told Yahoo News that, in fact, intelligence officials had labeled the attack the work of terrorists on "Day One.")
"We are still investigating" who is behind the strike, Cutter said, and the administration is committed to figuring "out exactly what happened and bringing those people to justice."
"And in terms of the politicization of this, you know, we are here at a debate and I hope we get to talk about the debate, but the entire reason that this has become the political topic it is, is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," Cutter said. "It's a big part of their stump speech, and it's reckless and irresponsible."
The Obama administration has drawn fire for trying to blame the attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which claimed the lives of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, on anger at an online video that ridicules Islam. In repeated public remarks during the week after the incident, top Obama officials strongly suggested the attack emerged out of demonstrations by Muslims angry over the film.
The Romney campaign wasted no time in pouncing on Cutter's remark.
"President Obama's campaign today said that Libya is only an issue because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. They're wrong," spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
"This administration has continually misled the American public about what happened in Benghazi and rather than be truthful about the sequence of events, has instead skirted responsibility and dodged questions," she said. "The American people deserve straight answers about this tragic event and a president who can provide leadership, not excuses."
In a subsequent written statement Cutter did not back off, charging that "from the time of the attack in Libya, Mitt Romney has stopped at nothing to politicize these events."
"While Mitt Romney, Congressman Ryan, and their Republican allies in Congress have turned a national tragedy into a political circus, the President has been focused on getting the facts, finding the terrorists responsible, and bringing them to justice," she said. "Our nation's security and how we handle the transitions in the Middle East and North Africa are critical issues in this campaign, and just 26 days before an election, the American people deserve real ideas and specifics from Mitt Romney."
Despite Cutter's professed outrage, the Obama campaign is no stranger to harnessing national security issues for political advantage. In April, the Democrat released an ad that strongly implies Romney would not have given the order to kill Osama bin Laden.