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Joe Biden Debate Claim On Libya Sparks New Round Of Handwringing

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Joe Biden and Paul Ryan faced off in a lively debate on Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky. (AP Photo/Pool-Rick Wilking) | AP

WASHINGTON -- The White House is taking renewed heat over a remark by Vice President Joe Biden in Thursday night's debate addressing how much the administration knew about security requests for the consulate in Libya that was attacked last month.

Biden appeared to deny that the administration was aware of any security requests for the Benghazi consulate prior to the attack that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

"We weren't told they wanted more security there," Biden said. "We did not know they wanted more security again."

But during a rancorous and heated four-plus-hours special session of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee a day earlier, two former security officers based in Benghazi testified that they had repeatedly asked the State Department for more resources.

The oversight committee has released copies of the unclassified cables in which those requests were made.

On Friday, the White House said the controversy ultimately turned on the question of what the definition of "we" is.

"The vice president was speaking about himself and the president and the White House," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, when pressed about Biden's remarks on Friday. "He was not referring to the administration, clearly, since there was a public hearing for four and a half hours where it was discussed openly by individuals working at the State Department [that requests had been made]."

Though there is no question the State Department was aware of the requests, it is, in fact, highly unlikely the White House would have been involved in such bureaucratic details.

Yet even if they turn out to be technically accurate, Biden's remarks seem likely to rekindle the related controversy over the White House's management and dissemination of information about the Libyan attack, some of which later proved to be false or misleading.

Mitt Romney seized on the seeming incompatibility of Biden's comments with other evidence during a rally on Friday in Richmond, Va.

"The vice president directly contradicted the sworn testimony of State Department officials," Romney said. "He's doubling down on denial. And we need to understand exactly what happened instead of having people just brush this aside."

Several days after the Benghazi attack, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told Fox News that "the best information and the best assessment" the administration had was that the attack was not preplanned and was instead linked to protests over an obscure anti-Islam video that had recently appeared online.

It took more than a week for the administration to acknowledge that the Benghazi event had, in fact, been a planned terrorist attack, and even longer to concede that there was no protest occurring outside the compound at the time.

During Thursday's debate, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan focused on this dimension of the controversy, accusing the administration of having a limited grasp of the facts.

"This is becoming more troubling by the day," Ryan said. "They first blamed the YouTube video. Now they're trying to blame the Romney-Ryan ticket for making this an issue."

In response, Biden said that the administration had put out only the information it had been provided by the intelligence community, with caveats that the attack was still under investigation.

"That was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community," he said of the earlier inaccuracies. "The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment."

Elise Foley contributed reporting.

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