Presidential Campaigns Spar Over Libya Attack

David Axelrod, Advisor to President Barack Obama (National Journal)

Following a vice presidential debate this week that concentrated heavily on foreign policy, the presidential campaigns clashed hard on Sunday over the administration's response to the terrorist attack in Libya.

David Axelrod, the senior adviser to the Obama campaign, defended the administration's actions in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Libya, accusing the Romney campaign of exploiting the issue for political gains.

Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace hammered Axelrod for 10 minutes on Libya, challenging him over the Obama administration's reaction to the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. Axelrod said the administration acted appropriately.

In the vice presidential debate, Joe Biden said the White House was unaware of security concerns at the consulate in Benghazi, saying the administration's public statements were based on what they were told by the intelligence community. Though he says members of the administration heard the concerns, Axelrod said the White House doesn't hear reports from every U.S. embassy across the globe.

"There are no doubts that these security measures went into the State Department," Axelrod said.

When challenged about the president going to a fundraiser in Nevada following the attack in Libya, Axelrod said Obama was in constant contact with his foreign policy advisers. He also said the president is always responsible for what goes wrong. "At the timeline level, the president of the United States is responsible for everything that happens," Axelrod said.

Stevens's father told Bloomberg on Sunday that he was upset by the fact that his son's death has turned into a political issue.

"It would really be abhorrent to make this into a campaign issue," Jan Stevens said, adding that, "The security matters are being adequately investigated. We don't pretend to be experts in security. It has to be objectively examined. That's where it belongs. It does not belong in the campaign arena."

Axelrod, citing the story, said Romney was "working hard to exploit this issue."

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Romney wasn't making the Libya attack a "political" issue and defended Romney, saying the matter needed to be explored.

"He didn't say it was a campaign issue," Portman said on ABC's This Week. "He said it was an issue. It's something the American people are concerned about."

However, Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, continued the attack on Fox News Sunday. "What we see is a constantly shifting story from this administration," he said.

Gillespie claimed Biden "directly contradicted" testimony from State Department officials in front of Congress this week. He also cautioned, however, that people should wait to the end of the investigation before passing judgment.

Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, accused Romney of politicizing the issue and of jumping too fast to criticize Obama.

"Let's figure out what happened," he said on CNN's State of the Union. "But you know what, we don't need wingtip cowboys. We don't need shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy."

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden defended his father's claims, bashing Romney's foreign policy credentials.

"These are people that seem to want to pound their chests, not worry about national security," he said on ABC's This Week.

See all NJ's Sunday show coverage | Get Sunday show coverage in your inbox