In the days after the successful mission to hunt and kill Osama bin Laden, White House officials recoiled at any suggestion they would frame his death in a political context. One year later, Republicans say they are doing exactly that.
A new Obama campaign Web video spotlights former President Bill Clinton praising President Obama's decision to order the mission and questions whether Republican challenger Mitt Romney would have done the same.
In a campaign speech Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden quoted a 2008 interview in which Mr. Romney said it wasn't worth "moving heaven and earth" to get just one person, namely, bin Laden, and also questioned whether Mr. Romney would have ordered the raid. He said an apt bumper sticker slogan for the Obama re-election campaign could be: "Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," referring to the bailout of the car maker.
And on Thursday, the White House allowed NBC to interview President Obama in the White House Situation Room, where the president and other top officials watched the mission unfold. The interview will air Wednesday, a day after the one-year anniversary of the raid.
Republicans cried foul. A spokeswoman for Mr. Romney, Andrea Saul, said Friday that the Obama campaign was seeking to use an event that had unified the nation to divide it now. "Desperate to tout anything they can, the Obama campaign has turned to bin Laden," she wrote in a memo to reporters.
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) was particularly critical of the campaign advertisement. "No one disputes that the president deserves credit for ordering the raid, but to politicize it in this way is the height of hypocrisy," he said.
It was unclear how President Obama would mark the anniversary. The White House's preview for the coming week showed no public events on the president's schedule for Tuesday.
NBC touted Mr. Obama's interview with anchor Brian Williams as the first network TV interview inside the Situation Room. "We want to present the definitive account of what took place leading up to and during the tension-filled hours of the mission targeting Osama bin Laden," said Steve Capus, president of NBC News, in a statement. "Our viewers will hear details never before revealed and see the nerve center of the White House Situation Room in this special broadcast."
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the NBC story is largely pegged to the iconic photo taken inside the Situation Room showing President Obama and other senior officials watching unseen screens as the mission unfolded.
He said he didn't know of any other presidential interviews that had been conducted inside the Situation Room, but noted that the White House did a video tour of the facility for its website and that the Bush White House gave reporters a tour in 2006. He said there still was "enormous interest" in the events of a year ago and that the interview would offer "another window into that remarkable day."
"The conference rooms NBC filmed are really just meeting spaces," he added. "The room itself is only classified if the topic being discussed is classified. There are daily meetings in the Situation Room about nonnational security issues."
In the days after the mission, senior White House officials said they would not politicize the bin Laden mission, perhaps mentioning it simply as part of a list of accomplishments. In explaining why his administration wouldn't release photos of bin Laden, President Obama told CBS's "60 Minutes": "I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he is gone. But we don't need to spike the football."