Barack Obama referred to the death of four Americans in the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi as "not optimal" during a taping of the Daily Show, according to the White House pool report.
The fallout from the tragic events in Libya, which saw US ambassador Christopher Stevens killed, is already a major campaign theme as Republicans have sought to portray the Obama team as covering up a terrorist attack by blaming the incident on a local mob incited by an anti-Islamic video.
Meanwhile, Democrats have accused Republicans of seeking to politicise the deaths of the four Americans and score points in the presidential election. During Tuesday's debate, Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney verbally sparred over the issue in heated exchanges eventually causing the debate moderator, Candy Crowley, to try and step in.
Obama used the phrase "not optimal" – which some conservatives quickly sought to portray as a major gaffe – after Stewart asked about the White House's apparent confusion as to what happened in Libya and who was behind the attack. "I would say, even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as all of us being on the same page," Stewart said to the president.
In response, Obama said: "Every piece of information that we get, as we got it, we laid it out to the American people. The picture gets fully filled in." He then added: "Here's what I'll say: when four Americans get killed, it's not optimal. We're going to fix it. All of it."
Obama has been a frequent visitor on the Daily Show. This last taping was his sixth visit overall since 2005 and his second since taking office as president.
During the interview, Stewart's questions ranged over his usual terrain of the trivial and the funny to serious policy issues. Obama admitted that he had an "off night" during the first presidential debate in Denver, when he turned in a performance that was widely panned, including by Stewart on his show.
He also said that he still wanted to close the controversial prison camp at Guantánamo Bay: a 2008 campaign promise that remains unfulfilled. "I still want to close Guantánamo. We haven't been able to get that through Congress … one of the things we have to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need congressional help to do that," he said. On a lighter note, Obama also joked with Stewart about the steamy literary hit Fifty Shades of Gray.
Stewart also told the president that he was was making a campaign scrapbook, and showed Obama two photographs from the debate. One showed first lady Michelle Obama looking at him angrily onstage after a debate, and the other showed her smiling broadly at him afterward. "Do you know which debate was which?" Stewart asked. "Cute. Cute, Jon," Obama replied.
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