Republicans pressed the Obama administration over the deadly attack on US diplomats in Libya, hoping to weaken the president three days before a final debate with rival Mitt Romney that will focus on foreign policy.
The race to the November 6 election remains close, and it was not clear whether the shrinking number of undecided voters would be swayed by an overseas issue while worrying about the economy at home, which remains weak.
Mr Obama got some good news as a new report said unemployment rates fell slightly last month in nearly all of the battleground states that will determine the election.
The presidency is decided in state-by-state contests, not a national popular vote. Forty-one of the 50 states are essentially already decided, and the candidates have taken the fight to the remaining nine, which include Ohio and Florida.
Voters will get one more update on the national unemployment rate, which now is 7.8%, just days before the election.
Mr Romney’s team focused on Libya, following reports that Mr Obama’s administration could have known early on that militants, not angry protesters, launched the attack that killed the US ambassador there.
Within 24 hours of the attack, the CIA station chief in Libya told Washington about eyewitness reports that the attack was carried out by militants, officials said.
“What we see in front of us is the absolute unravelling of the Obama administration’s foreign policy,” Mr Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, told WTAQ radio in the election battleground state of Wisconsin.
“I’m excited we’re going to have a chance to talk about that on Monday,” Mr Ryan added.
He was referring to the approaching debate, which will be the last chance the candidates have to confront each other before millions of live viewers.
Mr Obama, speaking on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, insisted that information was shared with the American people as it came in.
The attack is under investigation, Mr Obama said, and “the picture eventually gets filled in”.
The report from the CIA station chief was written on Wednesday, September 12, and reached intelligence agencies in Washington the next day, intelligence officials said.
It is not clear how widely the information was circulated. US intelligence officials have said the information was just one of many widely conflicting accounts, which became clearer by the following week.
Democrats have spent the past week explaining the administration’s handling of the attack.
“In the wake of an attack like this, in the fog of war, there’s always going to be confusion,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday.
Congress is asking the administration for documents about the attack, in hopes of building a timeline of what the government knew and when.
Mr Obama has weathered similar criticisms before. After the failed bombing of a US-bound airliner on Christmas Day 2009 and the attempted car bombing in Times Square in New York City in 2010, the Obama administration at first said there were no indications of wider terrorist plots.
The Christmas Day bomber turned out to be linked to al Qaida, and the Times Square bomber was trained by the Pakistani Taliban.
Nevertheless, polls have consistently showed that voters trust Mr Obama over Mr Romney on foreign affairs, including the handling of terrorism.
If Mr Obama was worried that Monday’s debate would change that, he showed no signs of it on Thursday night.
Speaking at a charity dinner, he offered this preview: “Spoiler alert: We got bin Laden.”
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