NEW YORK // US administration officials were scrambling yesterday to counter allegations by the Republicans that Barack Obama had failed to protect American diplomats in Libya despite increasing security threats, and that the White House had deliberately misrepresented the nature of the fatal assault on its Benghazi mission.
"I take responsibility," the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton said on the eve of yesterday's second presidential debate between Mr Obama and his challenger, Mitt Romney.
"I'm in charge of the State Department … the president and vice president certainly wouldn't be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals," she added.
US officials initially said that the attack on September 11 that killed Christopher Stevens, the US ambassador to Libya, and three other Americans at the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, occurred after protests against an anti-Islamic film spun out of control.
They then said that the attack had been planned by terrorists who used the protests for cover.
Finally, last week, they admitted there had been no protests in Benghazi over the film and that the attack was solely the work of militants linked to Al Qaeda.
Republicans have raised questions about why the assault was attributed to protests at all and pressed officials on whether the initial statements were deliberately misleading, designed to protect Mr Obama's national security record.
"The facts are there was never a riot," Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican senator, said on Sunday. "My belief is that that was known by the administration within 24 hours," he added, but "the president, on the 18th and 25th, kept talking about an attack inspired by a video".
During a politically charged Congressional hearing last week, Republicans seized on testimony by two former security officials in Libya that the State Department had reduced the numbers of US security personnel in the country during the months before the Benghazi attack, despite requests for increased security as intelligence warnings about militancy grew.