On Sunday, two days before the presidential election, CBS News released a video clip that proves two things. The clip is from President Barack Obama’s Sept. 12 interview with Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes. The newly release clip includes this exchange between the reporter and the president.
KROFT: Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya Attack, do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?
OBAMA: Well it’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans. And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.
KROFT: It’s been described as a mob action, but there are reports that they were very heavily armed with grenades, that doesn’t sound like your normal demonstration.
OBAMA: As I said, we’re still investigating exactly what happened, I don’t want to jump the gun on this. But your right that this is not a situation that was exactly the same as what happened in Egypt. And my suspicion is there are folks involved in this. Who were looking to target Americans from the start. So we’re gonna make sure that our first priority is to get our folks out safe, make sure our embassies are secured around the world and then we are going to go after those folks who carried this out.
KROFT: There have been reports, obviously this isn’t the first time…there have been attacks on the consulate before. There was an attack against the British ambassador. Do you…this occurred on Sept. 11. Can you tell me why the ambassador was in Benghazi yesterday? Was it to evaluate security at the consulate?
OBAMA: Well keep in mind Chris Stevens is somebody that was one of the first Americans on the ground when we were in the process of saving Benghazi and providing the opportunity for Libyans to create their own democracy. So this is somebody who had been courageous, had been on the ground, had helped to advise me and Secretary Clinton when we were taking our actions against Muammar Qaddafi. And is somebody who is very familiar with the train. He was doing the work that he does as a diplomat helping to shape our policies in the region at a time when things are still fairly fragile. But I think it’s important to note that we have a Libyan government in place that is fully cooperative, that sees the United States as a friend that recognizes we played an important role in liberating Libya and providing the Libyan people an opportunity to forge their own destiny. And in fact we had Libyans who helped protect our diplomats when they were under attack. But this is a country that is still rebuilding in the aftermath of Qaddafi. They don’t necessarily always have the same capabilities that countries with more established governments might have in helping to provide protection to our folks. But beyond that, what I want to do is make sure that we know exactly what happened, how it happened, who perpetrated this action, then we’ll act accordingly.”
The president and the reporter had that conversation after Obama’s Rose Garden remarks on Sept. 12, remarks that he would use during the second presidential debate to argue that he had called the Benghazi assault a terrorist attack just a day after the attack. But as is plain above, the president had not described Benghazi as terrorism, and was refusing under repeated questioning to do so. Shortly after this interview, Obama left Washington for a Las Vegas fundraiser. CBS held the tape unreleased from Sept. 12 to Nov. 4, and when the tape finally was released, it was only as part of a large CIA timeline of events that sources who were on the ground during the assault dispute.
It was in the second presidential debate that Mitt Romney attempted to pin Obama down on his administration’s spin after the assault. But another reporter, Candy Crowley of CNN, came to the president’s defense.
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
OBAMA: Please proceed.
ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It — he did in fact, sir. So let me — let me call it an act of terrorism — (inaudible) –
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy? (Laughter, applause.)
CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take — it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
ROMNEY: This — the administration — the administration — (applause) — indicated that this was a — a reaction to a — to a video and was a spontaneous reaction.
CROWLEY: They did.
ROMNEY: It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group and — and to suggest — am I incorrect in that regard? On Sunday the — your — your secretary or –
Obama — who had clearly won the moment (largely thanks to Candy Crowley) — clearly wanted to move on from that victorious moment — and quickly.
OBAMA: Candy –
ROMNEY: Excuse me. The ambassador to the United Nations went on the Sunday television shows and — and spoke about how this was a spontaneous reaction.
OBAMA: Candy, I’m — I’m happy to –
CROWLEY: President, let me — I –
OBAMA: I’m happy to have a longer conversation about foreign policy.
CROWLEY: I know you — absolutely. But I want — I want to move you on.
OBAMA: OK, I’m happy to do that too.
CROWLEY: And also, people can go to the transcripts and –
OBAMA:I just want to make sure that –
CROWLEY: — figure out what was said and when.
OBAMA:– you know, all these wonderful folks are going to have a chance to get some — their questions answered.
As we all now know, Crowley had her facts wrong. President Obama had not called Benghazi an act of terror during his Sept. 12 Rose Garden remarks. He only mentioned terrorism in the context of noting the anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, which had been the day before. Away from the huge national audience that watched the debate, Crowley later admitted that Romney had been right “in the main,” meaning on the facts. Crowley and Obama, therefore, had been wrong.