President Obama’s advisers claim to be doing the best they can in difficult circumstances to explain what happened in the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Libya.

But their questionable claim out of the gate that the attack was a “spontaneous” outburst triggered by protests over an anti-Islam film in neighboring Egypt fits a pattern, critics say, of downplaying both attempted and successful terrorist strikes.

“It’s the nothing-to-see-here answer,” said Republican strategist Tony Sayegh.

The administration has been slowly and carefully walking back the initial narrative in Libya, though officials continue to stand by the claim that the strike was not preplanned — despite mounting evidence and claims from top lawmakers that the attackers conducted at least some planning. Last week, top officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, called the attack terrorism. Obama will have an opportunity at the United Nations meeting in New York this week to clarify further.

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