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Romney: Biden 'doubling down on denial' in explanation of Libya response

 

Mitt Romney seized Friday on Vice President Joe Biden's characterization of the administration's handling of last month's terrorist attack in Libya, accusing the administration of contradicting itself and "doubling down on denial."

The Republican presidential nominee praised the performance of his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, at an early afternoon rally in Virginia, Romney's first since last night's vice presidential debate.

Steve Helber / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves to the crowd as he arrives for a rally in Richmond, Va., Friday, Oct. 12, 2012.

Republicans have homed in, though, upon Biden's explanation last night of the Obama administration's handling of the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

The vice president said "we did not know" that the post in Benghazi had asked for more security that day, the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. But that assertion differs from the testimony of State Department officials, who told lawmakers this week that they had, in fact, asked for increased security resources.

On Friday, Romney pounced.

"The vice president directly contradicted the sworn testimony of State Department officials," Romney said at a rally in Richmond, Va. "He's doubling down on denial."

Related: Biden plays aggressor in debate as Ryan argues GOP case

The Republican ticket has sought to turn the incident in Benghazi into an opportunity to distinguish itself from President Barack Obama on matters of foreign policy. Obama has led Romney on most issues of foreign policy and national security in the polls, though the GOP nominee has been able to gain traction on Libya due to some of the administration's own missteps.

The Obama administration, for instance, had initially maintained that the attack in Libya was the spontaneous outgrowth of protests related to an American video that portrayed Islam in an unflattering manner. But that explanation shifted in the weeks following the attack, and the administration eventually acknowledged that the mission in Libya was the target of a coordinated terrorist attack.

"As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment," Biden explained of the evolving explanation during last night's debate.

NBC's Domenico Montanaro recaps the vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.  Instant polls after the debate showed a split decision among voters about the winner.

The vice president also accused Romney of reacting haphazardly in the immediate aftermath of the attack, when the Republican nominee appeared on-camera hours after Stevens's death to accuse the administration of sympathizing with the attackers and apologizing for American values by way of condemning the video on Islam.

"Gov. Romney, before he knew the facts, before he even knew that our ambassador was killed, he was out making a political statement which was panned by the media around the world," Biden argued yesterday evening.

Related: Ryan wades deep into lengthy Afghanistan argument

But the Obama campaign's deputy manager, Stephanie Cutter, also invited Republican attacks -- including an indirect reference from Ryan during last night's debate -- for telling CNN that Romney and Ryan were to blame for turning the Libya incident into a political hot potato.

Romney, at his Virginia rally today, argued that voters are entitled to answers.

"We need to understand exactly what happened as opposed to just have people brush this aside," the Republican nominee argued. "When the vice president of the United States directly contradicts the testimony -- sworn testimony -- of State Department officials, American citizens have a right to know just what's going on. And we're going to find out. And this is the time for us to make sure we do find out."

Romney otherwise lionized his running mate for his debate performance, describing Ryan as "thoughtful and respectful and steady and poised" versus Biden's more visible mannerisms and aggressive style of debating.