Axelrod on Why Obama Campaigned Hours After Benghazi: ‘Everything Was Put in Motion That He Could Put in Motion’

Patrick Goodenough | November 5, 2012 | 4:27am EST
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Senior Obama advisors David Axelrod, left, and David Plouffe, talk during a campaign event for President Obama in Springfield, Ohio on Friday, November 2, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

( – President Obama returned to the campaign trail hours after terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate and a safe house in Benghazi,  killing four Americans, because “everything was put in motion that he could put in motion,” Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday.

Axelrod was asked by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace about the president’s decision to fly to Nevada for a campaign event “within hours” of the Sept. 11 attack – compared to the decision late last month to suspend campaigning for three days to deal with superstorm Sandy.

“Chris, as I said, immediately when word of the attack came, the president was meeting with his top national security folks. He was talking to them well into the night. He was in touch with them during the day, as – during the next day as well. So, there is no question about the fact that he was focused on this.”

“But, why did he feel he could campaign within hours after a terror attack?” Wallace asked.

“Well, everything – everything was put in motion that he could put in motion,” Axelrod replied. “Everything – every conversation that needed to be had was being had between him and his top national security officials.”

According to the official White House schedule for Wednesday, September 12, Obama left the White House for Andrews Air Force Base and the flight to Las Vegas at 2:05 pm. That was less than 24 hours after the drawn-out attack in Benghazi began; less than 16 hours after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Twitter first reported that an unnamed State Department “officer” had been killed in Benghazi; and about six hours after Clinton tweeted confirmation that four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were dead.

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Obama began his campaign speech that night by remembering the four Americans lost and pledging that “we will bring their killers to justice.” He campaigned the next day in Colorado, where his remarks included the warning, “To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished,” and returned to Washington around 7 pm.

The following day, Friday, Obama and Clinton were at Andrews AFB at 2.15 pm for a ceremony marking the arrival from Libya of the flag-draped caskets carrying the remains of Stevens, foreign service officer Sean Smith, and former Navy Seals Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

Obama returned to the White House at 3:15 pm, and at 7 pm attended another campaign event, at a private residence in Washington, the schedule shows.

‘Run out the clock’

Questions about the administration’s response to the Benghazi attack, and security decisions made beforehand, featured during several talk shows Sunday that were otherwise dominated by eleventh-hour election analysis and predictions.

Axelrod disputed Wallace’s suggestion that Obama was not answering questions about Benghazi because he had decided “to run out the clock until the election and not answer questions about Libya.”

“The president has said, we want to get to the bottom of it. We want to share it with the American people. We want to get it right,” he said.

Axelrod said Obama was “100 percent committed” to the safety of U.S. diplomats.

“He’s the one who met the coffins when they came home. So, any suggestion that he would not take the necessary steps to protect them, make some decision not to take the steps to protect them, is just nonsense.”

On CNN’s State of the Union, host Candy Crowley played a clip of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaking at a campaign event for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in Ohio on Friday night.

“You know that what happened in Libya is the result, at least, of incompetence,” Giuliani said. “You think if we had elected John McCain president of the United States those people wouldn’t have the full resources of the United States of America there in Benghazi, trying to save them?”

Crowley then asked her guest, Chicago mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, whether it was a mistake for Obama not to answer questions about what happened in Benghazi.

In his reply Emanuel cited the deaths last year of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric and al-Qaeda propagandist killed in a U.S. drone strike in Yemen, suggesting that Obama would ensure the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks met similar fates.

“We’re going to bring them to justice just like he did with Awlaki and just like he did with Osama bin Laden,” he said.

“In Benghazi, let’s not politicize this,” he said. “Get the investigation done. Let the chips fall where they may. Find who is accountable. Bring them to justice. And a mistake – if it was made in any other agency – then you fix it, and that’s what leadership is. It’s not trying to point fingers. It's trying to get to the bottom of something.”

‘Unprecedented’ politicization

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked senior Obama advisor David Plouffe whether the campaign was deliberately holding off until after Tuesday’s election before giving detailed answers to questions about Benghazi.

“Absolutely not,” replied Plouffe. “You know, all the information, obviously that – that has been commented on has been, you know, because we’ve released it.

“The – an investigation like this is very important,” he continued. “We have to get it right so we can learn lessons here.  And – and I think the president has been very clear.  He wants to understand – make sure the country understands fully what happened, what lessons do we learn from that and hold folks accountable.

Plouffe said the affair has been politicized.

He recalled that, after the bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen’s port of Aden less than a month before the 2000 presidential election, then GOP nominee Gov. George W. Bush had “said we need to speak with one voice.”

“We need to find out what happened here [in Benghazi],” Plouffe concluded. “And I do think the politicization of this has been unprecedented.”

(A Nexis search finds that Bush’s “one voice” comments in October 2000 referred less to the Cole attack than to a flare-up of violence in the West Bank. The “second intifada” erupted at the end of September, and a Palestinian mob lynched two Israeli soldiers on the same day as the Cole was bombed. Bush’s first recorded use of the phrase around that time came two days before the terror attack in Yemen, during a debate with Al Gore, in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian clashes.)

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