Mitt Romney heard President Barack Obama say he had called the assault at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi a terror attack in the days after the incident and went for the jugular, expressing amazement and doubting that the president declared it so.
The Romney campaign has hammered the Obama administration for allegedly downplaying the terrorist nature of the strike that killed Ambassador Chris Stephens and three other Americans.
"I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror," Obama told the crowd at Hofstra University.
Romney was incredulous, apparently having forgotten the speech.
"I think it's interesting, the president just said something which is that on the day after the attack he went in the Rose Garden and said this was an act of terror?" Romney said.
"That's what I said," said Obama.
"You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror, it was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?" Romney asked Obama again, his eyebrows rising.
"Please proceed, Governor," Obama said to the stunned Romney.
"I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," Romney said.
But, as moderator Candy Crowley pointed out, while it was true that many days passed before the Obama administration stopped suggesting the attacks had been spontaneous, the president did technically use the word "terror" on the day after they occurred.
"He did, in fact, sir," Crowley told Romney.
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," Obama said toward the end of his speech that day. (The full Rose Garden Speech is here.)
It's still fairly complicated: for days after the attack, members of the administration had indicated publicly that the incidents were prompted by an obscure anti-Islam videotape, and were not pre-planned. It took almost two weeks before the administration formally acknowledged that the attacks were a planned act of terror. But Obama did use the term "terror" when he spoke the day after the attacks, and Romney seemed to fall into a trap Tuesday night.
The question that prompted the exchange was about whether failures at the State Department had led to the attacks that left Stevens and the three other Americans dead.
On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did a round of interviews in which she said that she took responsibility for the attacks, something that many believed may have been an attempt to take the heat off the president before the debate.
Instead, Obama said it was his burden.
"The Secretary of State has done an extraordinary job but she works for me, but I am the president, and I am responsible," he said.
Then, taking aim at the suggestion by Romney's campaign that the White House had played politics with the incident, he added sharply, "The suggestion that anybody in my team, the secretary of State, the UN Ambassador [Susan Rice] -- anybody on my team -- would play politics or mislead when we lost four people on our team is offensive."