October 12th, 2012
03:52 PM ET

White House backs Biden's statement about Benghazi security requests

The White House faced a political maelstrom after Vice President Joe Biden's claim during Thursday's vice presidential debate about who was aware of requests for additional security at the diplomatic office in Benghazi.

""We weren't told they wanted more security. We did not know they wanted more security," Biden said during the debate.

As was pointed out by CNN's Fact Check team, just days earlier there were State Department security officials who testified to Congress about requests made and denied for more security.  But it's coming down to what the meaning of "we" is.

The White House explanation, on Friday, was that such requests were not made to the White House, they were handled by State.  Here's one of numerous exchanges between White House Spokesman Jay Carney and reporters:

QUESTION: So I'm wondering, what - what did the vice president mean? What did he mean by "we"? Did he mean the administration? Did he mean the White House?

CARNEY: He - he was speaking directly for himself and the president. He meant the White House.

In over four hours of testimony, the testimony that you've just referenced, the other day, no one who testified about this matter suggested that requests for additional security were made to the president or the White House. So these are issues appropriately that are handled by security professionals at the State Department? And that's - that's what he was talking about?

Again, if you look at the testimony, four-plus hours about it, there was no discussion of requests for personnel made here. Those are things that are handled by security personnel at the State Department. So that, I think, is - is very clear if you look at it in context in terms of what the vice president was responding to.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) came after - after that testimony it would seem he could have at least conceded...

CARNEY: I think the - the attack by and what has largely been a political attack by Republicans - in this case by Congressman Ryan - was to try to suggest that the president and the White House was responsible for assessing security in a diplomatic facility in Benghazi.

Over at Foggy Bottom, the State Department's Victoria Nuland did not dispute that questions about security are generally handled within the building:

QUESTION:  But specifically, and I'm sure you know why I'm asking this question, this relates to what the vice president said last night in the debate, specifically do you know in general if embassy security requests or diplomatic mission security requests are transmitted to the NSC or to people at the White House just as a - a general matter? I mean, not necessarily Libya, but could be, I don't know, Brasilia.

NULAND: If we're talking as a general matter, my understanding of these things, which is somewhat limited is that if the assets are all within the State Department, if that's what we're talking about, generally we handle it here.

If there's a policy reason for interagency coordination, then the policy team would take care of that. But if you're talking about using other agency's assets, or coordinating with other agencies, obviously that has to be managed interagency...

As CNN's Chief White House Correspondent Jessica Yellin reports on Political Ticker, if it sounds like the White House is suggesting the buck stops at the State Department in Foggy Bottom, White House aides say not exactly.

A senior White House official, speaking anonymously, told Yelling that they recognize the president is responsible for the security of all U.S. personnel around the world. But their intent here is to make clear that the vice president was not misspeaking when he said that he and the president were not personally briefed on the security requests.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Libya
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