(CNN) – The assault on an American diplomatic post in Libya that left four Americans dead provided surrogates for both presidential candidates with fodder for political attacks Sunday, two days ahead of a critical debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.
On CNN's "State of the Union," Romney adviser Ed Gillespie echoed an attack line the GOP nominee delivered last week, insisting that Vice President Joe Biden's assertions at the vice-presidential debate didn't match congressional testimony from State Department officials.
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"Vice President Biden directly contradicted the sworn testimony of the State Department in the debate the other night. That led to another round of kind of nuancing by the White House," Gillespie said, adding: "There are inconsistencies here, and I think as Americans we deserve to know what really happened going into this attack."
In the debate Thursday, Biden said, "We weren't told they wanted more security" at the diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya. State Department officials testified at a congressional hearing on Wednesday that they requested more security but were turned down by headquarters in Washington.
Robert Gibbs, also speaking with CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley on "State of the Union," said those requests were handled by the State Department and not by the president or vice president.
"Security requests at our embassies and consulates and our buildings throughout the world obviously go to the State Department. Those are the people that should be making those decisions," Gibbs said, adding, "Nobody wants to get to the bottom of exactly what happened more than this president and this administration."
Gibbs also rejected the Republican criticism of the Obama administration, saying the president's rivals were seeking political gain from the national tragedy.
"We don't need wing-tipped cowboys or shoot-from-the-hip diplomacy," Gibbs said, pointing to widespread criticism of Romney's initial response to the attack in Libya, as well as a protest at the American Embassy in Cairo that occurred the same day.
The sparring on Sunday came after a week that saw the Libya issue surface on the campaign trail as well as in Congress. At the hearing Wednesday, Republicans insinuated that Obama's administration was responsible for a lack of preparedness ahead of the attack in Benghazi on September 11, 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.
Gibbs said Sunday that what "everybody has been saying at every moment in this great tragedy has been the best information that we have when we have it available."
"We're learning stuff each and every day about what happened," he continued. "That's what an investigation is supposed to do."
Pressed by Crowley on whether the president was responsible in any way for the United States' situation in Libya, Gibbs said, "The administration is responsible."
"Countries that provide us consulates and missions are responsible also for keeping those people safe and secure," he added.
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