Stephanie Cutter ignited a firestorm when she blamed Team Romney on Thursday for making the Libya fiasco into the "political issue" it has become, but CNN's Brooke Baldwin enabled her gross political accusations by calling the Libya controversy a "political circus."
"No doubt this has absolutely turned in to a political circus, whatever political aisle you're looking at," Baldwin began the interview. Cutter then used those exact words in her first response: "Paul Ryan has politicized and made it a political circus all over this country of the terrible tragedy that happened in Libya." [Video below the break. Audio here.]
Cutter's remark that spawned the controversy was as follows: "...the entire reason that this has become the, you know, political topic it is is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It's a big part of their stump speech and it's reckless and irresponsible what they're doing." To her credit, Baldwin challenged that assumption.
"But Stephanie, this is national security," Baldwin stated, adding "it is absolutely impertinent -- people in the American -- you know, within the American public absolutely have a right to get answers."
CNN hammered the Obama administration for misleading the public on the Libya attacks when it had the correct information within 24 hours of the attacks. The American public has a right to know what happened. But Baldwin thought the controversy had been tainted by politicization, and the Obama campaign's deputy manager pounced and used her exact words.
And CBS's Jan Crawford tweeted that Romney almost never mentions Benghazi on the campaign trail, contrary to what Stephanie Cutter may claim.
A transcript of the segment, which aired on CNN Newsroom on October 11 at 2:29 p.m. EDT, is as follows:
BROOKE BALDWIN No doubt this has absolutely turned in to a political circus, whatever political aisle you're looking at. But how do you explain the mixed messages coming from the administration?
STEPHANIE CUTTER: Well, look. You know, the administration has been open and honest from day one about the Benghazi attack. And 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 becomes more clear what happened. And I think that's the case here. And, you know, we're here in Kentucky at the site of the vice presidential debate and we're anxious for this actually to come up tonight because Joe Biden, the Vice President, will be standing on stage with Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan has politicized and made it a political circus all over this country of the terrible tragedy that happened in Libya. And, you know –
BALDWIN: But Stephanie, I have to take you back.
CUTTER: – the one thing he's not doing is he's not saying exactly what he would do differently than the President and the Vice President and I hope he'll explain that to us tonight.
BALDWIN: I think a lot of Americans want explaining from both Biden, and perhaps we'll hear some answers from Ryan as well. But I have to be specific when it comes to the administration, because that's what I'm asking about, and so I'm sure you've seen this. But I'm going to do this for our viewers. We have put together a montage of administration officials, CNN, ABC, Univision, in the two weeks after those four Americans were killed. Take a look.
TEXT: September 17
SUSAN RICE, U.S. Ambassador to United Nations: Our current best assessment, based on the information that we have at present is that, in fact, what this began as was a spontaneous, not a premeditated, response to what had transpired in Cairo.
TEXT: September 20
BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States: What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by extremists to see if they can also directly harm U.S. interests.
TEXT: September 21
HILLARY CLINTON, Secretary of State: What happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack, and we will not rest until we have tracked down and brought to justice the terrorists who murdered four Americans.
TEXT: September 25
JOY BEHAR, co-host, ABC's The View: It was reported that people just went crazy and wild because of this anti-Muslim movie or anti-Muhammad, I guess, movie but then I heard Hillary Clinton say that it was an act of terrorism. Is it? What do you say?
OBAMA: Well, we're still doing an investigation. There's no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action.
TEXT: September 27
LEON PANETTA, Defense Secretary: It was a terrorist attack. It was because a group of terrorists obviously conducted that attack on the consulate.
(End Video Clip)
BALDWIN: Stephanie, four days, four days after, you know, people within the President's own administration were calling it a terrorist attack. We saw him on The View, the President asked point blank and he said they're still investigating. How do you explain that?
CUTTER: Well, we are still investigating. In fact, we are today still investigating, and, you know, there are two things that as soon as that attack occurred, two things. One, getting to the bottom of that attack to figuring out what happened and bringing those people to justice. And that's what the administration has been focused on. You know, what you saw there is the administration giving you their best intelligence, what their best intelligence were telling them of what was happening on the ground. And had we had any different information, we would have put it out. We would have told the American people what we knew and, you know, in terms of the politicization of this, we are here at a debate and I hope we get to talk about the debate, but the entire reason that this has become the, you know, political topic it is is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. It's a big part of their stump speech and it's reckless and irresponsible what they're doing. And I think –
BALDWIN: But Stephanie, this is national security. As we witnessed this revolution last year and we covered it –
CUTTER: It is absolutely national security.
BALDWIN: – it is absolutely impertinent -- people in the American -- you know, within the American public absolutely have a right to get answers. Specifically, if I can –
CUTTER: Right, absolutely.
BALDWIN: And I do want to get to the debate. I promise. But let's just throw the politics out of it. Because I want you to hear the words from a mother. This is the mother of Sean Smith. You know he was the computer specialist at the Consulate in Benghazi, father of two. She went on with Anderson Cooper last night and she told our audience she doesn't even know how her son died one month later.
PAT SMITH, mother of Sean Smith: I look at TV and I see bloody handprints on walls. Thinking, my god, is that my son's? I don't know if he was shot. I don't know – I don't know. They haven't told me anything. They're still studying it. And the things that they are telling me are just outright lies.
(End Video Clip)
BALDWIN: Stephanie, she said, you know, the President, the Vice President, Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, all came up to her after her son's death and said they will get to the bottom of this. She cried on the President's shoulder. Stephanie, I know you're not speaking for the State Department and I know your job is to put a lot of spin out there. But how do you explain this? To just people, to Americans, 26 days to go, who are on the fence over who to vote for?
CUTTER: Well, first of all you're right. I can't speak for the administration. I'm on the other side, now. I'm on the campaign. And my job may be to spin, Ashleigh, but it's also to put the facts out –
BALDWIN: It's Brooke. It's Brooke.
CUTTER: I'm sorry. Brooke, but we put the facts out there every step of the way. I have great sympathy for that mother who lost her son. I don't know about the conversations that have occurred and I do need to leave that to the State Department.