More than a day after Islamic militants launched a deadly attack on the United States consulate in Libya, President Barack Obama maintained that it was “too early to tell” if the siege was a product of terrorism—despite intelligence reports stating otherwise, according to a previously unreleased interview with the president.
“It’s too early to tell exactly how this came about, what group was involved, but obviously it was an attack on Americans,” Obama told CBS’s Steve Kroft during an interview on Sept. 12, 2012, hours after the president delivered a Rose Garden address discussing the attacks. “And we are going to be working with the Libyan government to make sure that we bring these folks to justice, one way or the other.”
This portion of the CBS interview, which originally aired in September, was cut from the initial broadcast. It was released online Sunday afternoon.
Obama’s comments have become fodder for those who believe that the administration failed to definitively identify the Libya attack as terrorism, despite a mounting body of evidence indicating that it was organized by an affiliate of al Qaeda.
Intelligence reports and classified cables suggest that the administration was informed that the attacks were carried out by militants and had nothing to do with an anti-Islam video that sparked outrage across the Muslim world.
Kroft’s initial question to Obama also was omitted from the CBS broadcast: “Mr. President, this morning you went out of your way to avoid the use of the word terrorism in connection with the Libya attack, do you believe that this was a terrorism attack?”
Obama does not appear to disagree with this premise, according to the video.
Whether Obama specifically referred to the attack as “terrorism” has become a point of contention in the presidential race. Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney engaged in a sharp back-and-forth over the issue during a debate last month.
During the debate, moderator Candy Crowley came to Obama’s defense when she asserted that he did in fact call the Libya attack an act of terrorism. She later admitted to being wrong about this.
The new CBS footage appears to bolster Romney’s case against the president. It reveals Obama’s hesitance to dub the attack as terrorism. It also had led media observers to chastise CBS for withholding the footage until now.
“Why did CBS release a clip that appeared to back up Obama's claim in the second debate on Oct. 19, a few days before the foreign policy debate, and not release the rest of that interview at the beginning?” Fox News reporter Bret Baier asked in an online post Monday. “Why on the Sunday before the election, almost six weeks after the attack, at 6 p.m. does an obscure online timeline posted on CBS.com contain the additional ‘60 Minutes’ interview material from Sept. 12?”
Baier adds: “Why wasn’t it news after the president said what he said in the second debate, knowing what they had in that ‘60 Minutes’ tape—why didn't they use it then? And why is it taking Fox News to spur other media organizations to take the Benghazi story seriously?”
Commenters on CBS’s website also have chastised the organization withholding the critical footage.
“CBS decides to post this additional footage on the eve of an election when it would have had enormous news value right after the Candy Crowley debate controversy,” wrote one observer. “The only possible explanation is that CBS/60 Minutes didn't want to bring more attention to this matter in a way that might damage President Obama's reelection efforts.”
You have to be kidding me!” added another commenter. “Ask yourself why did cBS hide this until now?”