Hillary Clinton Takes Responsibility for Libya Attack on Eve of Debate

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Photo: Win McNamee/2012 Getty Images

As the Obama administration's shifting explanation of what happened during the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya came under increasing attack, Hillary Clinton kept a fairly low profile. Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., was dispatched to discuss the incident on the Sunday talk shows, and after Joe Biden said during last week's debate that "we weren't told" about requests for more security, spokesman Jay Carney clarified that Biden was referring to the White House, adding that the decision was made by mid-level State Department officials and didn't involve Clinton.

The secretary of state has said several times that the investigation is ongoing and everyone in the administration is still trying to make sense of what happened. On Monday night she jumped further into the political controversy, saying in interviews with several news outlets that the buck stops with her. "I take responsibility," Clinton told CNN. "I'm in charge of the State Department's 60,000-plus people all over the world, 275 posts. The president and the vice-president wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals. They're the ones who weigh all of the threats and the risks and the needs and make a considered decision."

Clinton went on to defend the conflicting reports that have come out of the Obama administration:

In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there's always going to be confusion. And I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence. Everyone who spoke tried to give the information that they had. As time has gone on, that information has changed. We've gotten more detail, but that's not surprising. That always happens.

She added that she wants to "avoid is some kind of political gotcha or blame game," noting that we're "very close to an election," and making a belated plea to keep the attack in Libya out of the campaign. "I want to just take a step back here and say from my own experience, we are at our best as Americans when we pull together," said Clinton. "I've done that with Democratic presidents and Republican presidents."

With Romney expected to attack Obama over the situation in Libya during their debate on Tuesday night, Clinton's remarks have widely been described as her falling on her sword for the president. If that's the case, it doesn't seem that she was eager to do so. Clinton didn't issue the mea culpa last week when the State Department distanced itself from other administration officials' claims that extremists "hijacked" a protest in Benghazi, or on Friday following Biden's controversial debate remark. She also made the statements while visiting South America. In an editorial criticizing Clinton's response, The Wall Street Journal noted, "Saying you take 'responsibility' in brief interviews from faraway Peru is a long way from acting as if you're responsible." Nor will it do much to deflect the Republicans' attack. On Friday Romney said of the Obama administration, "First they blame a YouTube video and a nonexistent riot, then when the country is getting upset about it, they blame Romney-Ryan for getting people upset about it." It won't be too hard for the Romney team to work in another line accusing Obama of shifting the blame to his popular secretary of state.