(CNN) - Remarks from one of President Barack Obama's top campaign aides on the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, drew a sharp rebuke from Mitt Romney Thursday at a campaign event in North Carolina.
Romney was reacting to comments Stephanie Cutter made on CNN earlier in the day. She said the political firestorm ignited by the attack on an American consulate in Benghazi was a result of Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan using the event to attack the president.
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"The entire reason that this has become the, you know, political topic it is is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan," said Cutter, the president's deputy campaign manager. She was speaking to CNN's Brooke Baldwin.
"It's a big part of their stump speech," she continued, adding the GOP vice presidential candidate has "made a political circus all over this country of the terrible tragedy that happened in Libya."
Romney said the remark was an indication Obama and his team "fail to grasp the seriousness of the challenges that we face here in America."
"No, President Obama, it's an issue because this is the first time in 33 years that a United States ambassador has been assassinated," Romney said at his event in Ashville. "Mr. President, this is an issue because we were attacked successfully by terrorists on the anniversary of 9/11. President Obama, this is an issue because Americans wonder why it was it took so long for you to admit that this was a terrorist attack."
"This is a very serious issue," he continued. "These are very serious questions, and the American people deserve serious answers and I hope they come soon."
Cutter's remarks came the day after a contentious Congressional hearing where Republicans insinuated that Obama's administration was responsible for a lack of preparedness ahead of the September 11 attack, which killed four Americans, including the United States' ambassador to Libya.
Critics accuse the administration of trying to cover up or play down the attack through initial statements that described it as a spontaneous act stemming from protests over an anti-Muslim film rather than a planned terrorist assault.
Cutter said on CNN that the State Department and other agencies had been completely forthright in the aftermath of the attack, rejecting the notion that administration officials had purposely misled the American public about the government's handling of the attack.
"The administration has been open and honest from day one about the Benghazi attack," Cutter said. "As more information has become available, they've made that information available to the American people and to members of Congress. But, you know, when a crisis occurs, when an attack occurs, that information is gathered and over time it's more clear what happened."
Andrea Saul, Romney's national press secretary, said in a statement earlier in the day Cutter was wrong in her assertion the GOP nominee and his running mate were the reason the Benghazi attack became political.
"The reason it is an issue is because, for the first time since 1979, an American ambassador was assassinated and President Obama's foreign policy strategy of 'leading from behind' is failing," Saul wrote. "This administration has continually misled the American public about what happened in Benghazi and, rather than be truthful about the sequence of events, has instead skirted responsibility and dodged questions. The American people deserve straight answers about this tragic event and a president who can provide leadership, not excuses."