Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that she, not President Obama, is responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks in Benghazi that killed a U.S. diplomat and three other Americans. The question is, why did she take the fall for the administration and why did she do it the day prior to the second presidential debate?
"I take responsibility," Clinton told CNN in Peru, insisting that President Obama and Vice President Biden knew nothing about the attacks.
"I want to avoid some kind of political gotcha," in what looked like an apparent effort to take pressure off of the president prior to Tuesday night's debate.
In order to examine the reason Clinton may have either chosen or been asked to fall on the sword to protect the White House, a little history between the two camps may provide some answers.
In the 2008 Democratic primary, Barack Obama did what many Democratic insiders considered impossible by defeating Hillary and Bill Clinton's powerful political machine. He went on to secure an easy victory over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the general election.
However, President Obama wasted no time in appointing the former First Lady and Senator from New York as his first and only Secretary of State. At the time, analysts speculated it was to soothe some of the tension between Obama and the Clintons. It also provided Mrs. Clinton with a platform on which to run for higher office – specifically the one she just lost.
And now Clinton, who says she will not serve if Obama secures a second term, is willing to take the fall for the security lapses in Libya.
Experts who are following the issue agree that political expediency and credibility are two of the reasons that seem most obvious.
"She is trying to take the heat for him. She's taking a bullet for the president," University of New Hampshire political expert Andrew Smith told The Boston Herald.
Brandeis University's Jytte Klausen agreed that Clinton's stance may be politically motivated, but the credibility of the State Department may have been a larger factor.
"If you wind the wheel back, it would seem a minor decision at the time. Libya wasn't a country they were worried about at that point. They were worrying about Iran, Syria, Egypt. Libya was out of the fire," said Klausen. "I do think the State Department was responsible in this case. When (Vice President Joe) Biden said in the vice presidential debate that we didn't know anything about it, meaning the White House, I suspect that's the truth."
When Mitt Romney brought up the issue late in the debate it caught the ire of President Obama, who accused the Massachusetts governor of playing politics with the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stephens and the others.
"The suggestion that anybody in my camp – anybody on my team – would play politics when we lost four of our own, is offensive," Obama aggressively told Romney and those gathered at Hofstra University.
Romney shot back, insisting that the president and his advisers took too long to describe the attacks as terrorist attacks. Just days after the election, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said, "This was not a prepared or premeditated attack."
Romney used comments Obama made in a Rose Garden press conference to point out what Obama said. However, the debate moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley, interjected, saying, "He did indeed call it an 'act of terror.'"
Here is what Obama said in the Rose Garden:
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," Obama said at the time. At another point in the remarks, he called the attack "outrageous and shocking," and refrained from using the term "terrorism" to describe it directly.
Pundits point out that the president was referring to the attacks of 9/11/01 and not the attacks that took place in Libya.
When asked during the debate Tuesday if the buck stops with Clinton, Obama replied, "I'm the president. And I'm always responsible."
Nevertheless, Clinton taking responsibility for the attacks could come back to haunt her if she aspires to make another run for the White House in 2016.
"It's a bit surprising that Clinton would take the fall for Obama," says Katrina Trinko at National Review. "If Clinton was thinking about making a 2016 run, she isn't helping her chances. Accepting the blame for inadequate security, despite all the warning signs, throws her judgment into question. And this could be just the beginning."