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White House uses 'Situation Room' strategy as Bin Laden anniversary nears

Published: Monday, April 30, 2012 9:37 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON (MCT) — As the second anniversary of the signing of the health-care reform law neared last month, the White House tried to tamp down media interest in how, if at all, the milestone would be marked by the president.

"The anniversary is not something that the president is going to have an event around, but it is quite clearly a major accomplishment for him and for the administration," press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the time.

The thinking is quite different with regard to a different anniversary — the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden as part of a high-risk military operation ordered by the president a year ago this week.

NBC News announced Friday that it had gained "unprecedented access" to the White House Situation Room, "the most secret and secure part" of the presidential compound, for an exclusive interview with President that will air May 2.

The network also interviewed senior members of the national security team, including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for an hourlong, prime-time special NBC says will offer "the definitive account of what took place leading up to and during the tension-filled hours of the mission targeting Osama bin Laden."

"Our viewers will hear details never before revealed and see the nerve center of the White House Situation Room in this special broadcast," said NBC News President Steve Capus.

Forget about the Rose Garden — it seems part of a Situation Room Strategy to showcase Obama as commander in chief.

Biden did just that on Thursday. In a campaign speech on national security in New York, the man who once teased Rudy Giuliani for his heavy reliance on the "America's Mayor" image in his campaign narrative invoked Bin Laden's name 12 times in a roughly 45-minute attack on GOP nominee Mitt Romney ("a noun, a verb, and Bin Laden," one might say).

There seemed to be some clever stagecraft at play on Friday, too, as the president and first lady spoke at a military base in Georgia with dozens of uniformed personnel behind them. He was there to sign an executive order that the administration said will crack down on colleges that prey on military veterans with misleading information about financial aid, credits and programs.

Friday afternoon, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked if the White House was politicizing the Situation Room.

Obama has done a number of interviews in the past year about the Bin Laden mission, Earnest said.

"I think the president has spoken frequently about how the lion's share of the credit for the success of that mission goes to our men and women in uniform, to the men and women in the intelligence community, who worked so hard to ensure that mission's success. And so what the president did yesterday and what he has done many times before over the course of the last year is talk about that mission and talk about the success of that mission," he said.

"There certainly is interest around the one-year anniversary, so I'd be surprised if nobody asked about it in the context of the one-year anniversary. I expect that all of you will be asking about it next week as well," he told reporters traveling with the president to Georgia.

Republicans nonetheless denounced Obama for seeking political advantage.

"Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of Sept. 11 and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad," Sen. John McCain said in a statement issued by the Republican National Committee. "This is the same president who said, after Bin Laden was dead, that we shouldn't 'spike the ball' after the touchdown. And now Barack Obama is not only trying to score political points by invoking Osama bin Laden, he is doing a shameless end-zone dance to help himself get re-elected."

"No one disputes that the president deserves credit for ordering the raid, but to politicize it in this way is the height of hypocrisy."

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