Charles Dharapak/AP

Romney to Obama: Serious questions about terrorist strike in Libya

The GOP nominee says questions about the killings are not political.

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Mitt Romney challenged President Obama on Thursday to explain why it took so long for the administration to conclude that the attack in Libya that killed four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, was a terrorist attack successfully carried out on the anniversary of September 11th.

Romney raised the issue after Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter said in an interview on CNN that the “entire reason” the attack in Benghazi has become a “political topic…is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.”

Romney seized on Cutter’s comment at a rally here, scoffing at the notion that his campaign was responsible for making an issue out of the events in Libya.

“No, President Obama, it’s an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated,” Romney said as a crowd of over 8,000 shouted their agreement. “Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11. President Obama, this is an issue because Americans wonder why it was it took so long for you and your administration to admit that this was a terrorist attack.”

The Obama administration has come under fire for its shifting accounts of the events that occurred at American diplomatic compounds on September 11th, when four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.  Administration officials initially signaled that the attacks were triggered by protests against an anti-Muslim film, although reporting later showed that U.S. intelligence agencies internally concluded within a day that the incident was a planned terror attack

Cutter’s comment about the political nature of the attacks on Obama over the Libyan incident came as she argued that the administration has passed along the best intelligence as it comes in. She was later pushed on these facts in an interview with Fox News host Brett Baier, who pointed out that the president himself tied the attacks to the video in an appearance on CBS’ David Letterman show six days after the  assault on the compounds.

“It was an intelligence conclusion,” Cutter responded before becoming testy.  “What are you suggesting? Are you suggesting that we are playing politics with this?”

“I am not suggesting anything,” Baier responded. “The entire reason this has become a political topic, four people are dead.”

Cutter agreed and insisted that the Obama administration “has treated this entire tragedy with the utmost seriousness to get to the bottom of the attacks, hold the perpetrators accountable, and make sure that it never happens again.”

In Asheville, Romney agreed that the issue is not a political one. “These are very serious questions,” he said.  “And the American people deserve serious answers and I hope they come soon.”

The Obama campaign harked back to Romney’s initial response to violence in Egypt and Libya -- a statement late on the night of Sept. 11 that was widely viewed in both parties as premature, inaccurate and inappropriate. “From the time of the attack in Libya, Mitt Romney has stopped at nothing to politicize these events – and he wasted no time in proving that point in North Carolina today,” Obama for America spokeswoman Lis Smith said Thursday in a statement.  ‘While President Obama has been focused on getting the facts, finding the terrorists responsible, and bringing them to justice, Mitt Romney has attempted to use the tragedy to his political advantage.”