Romney's political pretzel over Libya
September 12th, 2012
02:23 PM ET
2 years ago

Romney's political pretzel over Libya

(CNN) – Has Mitt Romney twisted the narrative of Tuesday's attacks at U.S. missions in Libya and Egypt?

A timeline of the events suggests Romney was wrong in his accusation that the Obama administration's "first response" on Tuesday was one of sympathy for those who started the violence itself–as the violence came after the first statement was published.

– Follow the Ticker on Twitter: @PoliticalTicker

And Romney's comments Wednesday characterized that response as standing "in apology" when the embassy's statement was not actually an apology but a condemnation.

The timeline:

Tuesday morning in Egypt, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement stating it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims." The statement came after protests erupted in parts of the Arab world in response to an online video found offensive by Muslims.

While the statement doesn't specifically mention the video, it says the embassy "firmly reject(s) the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others." READ THE FULL STATEMENT HERE.

After the statement, protesters began to breach the embassy in Cairo, where ultimately several men scaled the walls of the mission and tore down its American flag.

At 6:30 p.m. ET - The embassy then tweeted about its earlier statement: "This morning's condemnation (issued before protests began) still stands. As does our condemnation of unjustified breach of the Embassy." The tweet was posted by a foreign service officer, CNN confirmed. Several State Department sources said that the U.S. ambassador to Egypt did not sign off on the original statement, as she was in Washington at the time.

Reports then emerged Tuesday evening, Eastern Standard Time, of attacks on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The State Department also told CNN that a consulate employee had been killed in the attacks. At the time, however, the employee's nationality was not clear.

At 10:10 p.m. ET, Romney's campaign released an embargoed (until midnight) statement blasting the Obama administration. The statement had a veiled reference to the Egypt embassy's statement that condemned offensive speech against Muslims and referred to it as the administration's "first response":

"I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." READ THE FULL STATEMENT HERE.

At 10:25 p.m. ET, the campaign lifted the embargo, and news outlets began reporting the statement.

At 12:11 a.m. ET, Obama's re-election campaign put out a statement, accusing Romney of taking a political swipe during the crisis.

"We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack."

At 6:21 a.m. ET, CNN reported on its wire service that U.S. ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed in a rocket attack. Over the next few hours, it's revealed that three other personnel, including a Foreign Service information management officer, were also killed.

At 10:16 a.m. ET, Romney held a press conference at his campaign office in Jacksonville, Florida. He renewed his criticism of the Obama administration, saying "Obama has demonstrated a lack of clarity as to a foreign policy."

Asked if he regretted the wording in his statement Tuesday night, the Republican then issued his own timeline of the events in answering the question.

"The embassy in Cairo put out a statement after their grounds had been breached. Protestors were inside the grounds," he said. As noted earlier, however, the U.S. Embassy statement was issued before the breach. The embassy then reiterated the statement on Twitter after protestors were over the walls. A Romney campaign official pointed to this tweet, which has since been deleted, as justification for the Republican nominee's comment that the statement came after the grounds were breached.

Romney then said the administration's original statement from the embassy in Cairo was effectively an "apology." His language went further than the Tuesday release from his campaign where he called it "disgraceful" and an expression of "sympathy for those who waged the attacks." READ THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRESS CONFERENCE HERE.

"I think it's a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values. That instead when our grounds are being attacked and being breached, that the first response of the United States must be outrage," he said. "An apology for America's values is never the right course."

His comments also raise the question that if Romney was condemning the embassy statement that condemned offensive speech against Muslims, where does Romney stand on the offensive video?

While he wasn't asked about the video in the press conference, Romney stood by the right to free speech.

"We'll defend also our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion," he said. "We encourage our nations to understand and respect the principles of our Constitution because we recognize that these principles are the ultimate source of freedom for individuals around the world."

CNN, however, obtained talking points from the Romney campaign in which they advise Republicans on how to respond to the press over the issue. The document suggests Republicans be prepared to answer this question: "Don't you think it was appropriate for the embassy to condemn the controversial movie in question? Are you standing up for movies like this?"

The answer prompts the responder to say that Romney "rejects the reported message of the movie," but to add that "we will not apologize for our constitutional right to freedom of speech."

– CNN's Elise Labott, Peter Hamby, Rachel Streitfeld, Jill Dougherty, Ashley Killough, and Kevin Liptak.

Also see:

– With attacks in Middle East, campaign turns to foreign policy

– Romney's political pretzel over Libya

– Democrats outraged with Romney foreign policy attacks

– Ryan ramps up foreign policy attack on Obama


Filed under: 2012 • Egypt • Libya • Mitt Romney
soundoff (1,318 Responses)
  1. Anonymous

    Romney comments are pre-mature, he is looking for political gain at the worst time...he lost my vote.

    September 12, 2012 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  2. z2cents

    It is scary to know that this guy is a candidate for President..

    September 12, 2012 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    How can anyone defend Romney? This guy is scary...whos for another two wars over stupidity

    September 12, 2012 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  4. IDontBelieveIt

    Romney didn't twist the facts. In normal times he wouldn't have criticized the President but this is the run up to the election. If Obama can accuse Romney of being a FELON and KILLING an old lady, Romney can be forgiven for drawing attention to Obama's lousy foreign policy.

    Obama and H.Clinton praised and encouraged the arab spring on world TV It was an appalling error of judgement. And don't forget the Ambassador and staffers were murdered on Obama's watch!

    September 12, 2012 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  5. Larry

    the only time the timeline it even mentions the white house is: can't u people read?
    At 12:11 a.m. ET, Obama's re-election campaign put out a statement, accusing Romney of taking a political swipe during the crisis.

    "We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack."

    September 12, 2012 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  6. K

    Aside from the fact that he has made himself look foolish again (by not having the facts straight), Willard doesn't bother to offer his condolences to the ambassador's family. What a low class piece of garbage. Instead, he attempts a frontal assault on the president. Well done. Now go join your money on some remote island.

    September 12, 2012 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  7. MaryM

    Stormy, Wrong. Romney jumped the gun before all the facts were out. Romneys comments were a BIG mistake and even
    the Repubs are saying Romney was WRONG.

    September 12, 2012 10:07 pm at 10:07 pm |
  8. judith

    Romney sank to a new level today in lying about the President's actions and exploiting these attacks. If Romney is such a superhawk, how come he avoided service and not one of his overprivileged sons has ever gone to war? What a phony and what a bottomfeeder.

    September 12, 2012 10:09 pm at 10:09 pm |
  9. Larry

    Obama did not make any statement of Apologies the US Embassy did under their own power before the attack(to help pacify a mob I would assume), and who leads the embassy? the Ambassador and from what we know about him now he was a strong advocate for the people of Libya who in the end, where the ones that ended up killing him, which is messed up because everything that is being released about him says he was a good man and was really trying to help their country out allot. Mitt jumped the gun before he knew who issued that statement and started firing off on the White House. This is more of an issue of Americans helping other countries then being given the finger as soon as they turn their back.

    September 12, 2012 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  10. enuff

    Unless Romney wants to put his money where his mouth is and have his sons volunteer for the military, he really shouldn't be trying to incite a war situation.

    September 12, 2012 10:11 pm at 10:11 pm |
  11. jobdespair

    Romney is a liar. Stop the presses! Leave it to CNN to take this long to realize it.

    September 12, 2012 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  12. Robert

    Romney = cooked
    This is the big leagues. Global politics are far more complex and delicate than making business decisions.

    September 12, 2012 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  13. Everything will be illuminated soon enough

    Mitt reminds me of enos from dukes of hazard, just not as likable.

    September 12, 2012 10:13 pm at 10:13 pm |
  14. HereticX

    Romney's an ass looking for any chance to pounce, and this time he pounced on his shoe.... sinking his teeth in really deep. He's desperate as he falls farther behind in the polls and will look for any opportunity to say anything no matter how stupid he looks. By the way, I hope someone leeks those tax records of his!!! Can't wait to see how he games the system to avoid paying taxes. It may be all legal, but certainly not ethical for someone who wants to buy..... I mean, be the President of the United States. He shows no love for our veterans at the GOP convention, then dismisses it as just a low priority on a "laundry list." What a jerk.

    September 12, 2012 10:14 pm at 10:14 pm |
  15. Brad

    Regardless of what happened, it is incredibly inappropriate to discuss this while the whole situation is fluid. That, alone, shows the poor judgment of Romney – right on the tails of his failed European trip. The guys a clown.

    Regarding others attempts to spin what happened:

    1. At no point did the Embassy "apologize" for the feelings. They said they condemned the efforts of others to hurt feelings. This is akin to someone condemning the actions of a mass murderer. It doesn't mean they are apologizing.

    2. You can ignore what the Embassy said or did. They were in a hostile situation and had to respond to the situation on the ground. All of you (including Romney) talk a big game from the safety of your living rooms. But you were not there with an embassy under assault.

    3. Trying to say the words ""We firmly REJECT the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others." is an apology but this "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo CONDEMNS the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims" is a condemnation is clearly illogical. The verbs "reject" and "condemn" mean basically the same thing. And it is not "apologize."

    4. Given the above, clearly Romney jumped the gun before he knew what had happened. And he really jumped the gun because he is making these statements while it was still unclear what was happening. Were there people at risk still? Post 9/11, not one Democrat slammed Bush. In fact, they all stood up and said we stand as one. Compare that approach to Romney's desparate attempts.

    5. This "freedom of speech" meme is nonsense. No one said they don't have Freedom of Speech. All the government said was we condemn that speech. And that happens every day in life in America. Someone says something stupid and people generally thing it is wrong.

    Bottom line: it was clearly inappropriate, but Romney supporters need to spin what happened so that Romney does not look like the out of touch goof that he is.

    September 12, 2012 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  16. irish pats fan

    Obama always goes against us. He h
    elped mexico sue us and he want us to apoligize to muslims for everything. Give me a break. Im glad he was not there for 9/11 he would of apoligized to al quada

    September 12, 2012 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  17. kat0189

    Isn't prompting someone what to say a violation of their 1st admendment rights?

    September 12, 2012 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  18. cgire

    I'll have to disagree with Mr. Romney's statement that "it's disgraceful that the Obama Administration's first response was ... to sympathize with those who waged the attacks." Instead, I believe it's disgraceful that Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney reacted without thinking and thereby put our missions in Egypt and Libya at further risk.

    Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan claim (unjustly, I believe) that the Egyptian embassy "apologized" by stating the U.S. position that no one should denigrate another's religion. Isn't that indeed our position?

    The U.S. embassies in Libya and Egypt were under attack. One would think an approach to show solidarity would be in order. For example, a candidate for the Presidency could state the ultimate goal of all Americans to demand and fight for the protection of our overseas personnel. That would "project strength."

    Instead, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan chose to immediately attack Mr. Obama and his entire foreign policy. So, rather than back up the President and our country while our personnel were under attack, we got ill-considered outbursts. How can those statements not weaken our position?

    I don't see Mr. Obama or Ms. Clinton making those sorts of statements. They're coming only from Romney and Ryan.

    September 12, 2012 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  19. yasmine

    I hope the Koch are paying well for some of you to post your comments on sites...

    September 12, 2012 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  20. Really?

    Thank you, Tilly, your comment makes total sense....that's why the liberals don't get it.

    September 12, 2012 10:20 pm at 10:20 pm |
  21. One and Out

    Sad that the Obama N@ws Network is hard at work protecting their boy. Obama's Libya speech was very weak, and apol0getic. Did you CNN automat0ns even watch it?

    Soon the Apologizer-in-Chief will be out and hopefully we may have a real leader again.

    September 12, 2012 10:21 pm at 10:21 pm |
  22. One and Out

    Wow, CNN really? Your pro-Obama stance is crushing...

    September 12, 2012 10:22 pm at 10:22 pm |
  23. Mom of Two

    Great knee-jerk reaction Mr. Romney. You got caught with your foot in your mouth!

    September 12, 2012 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  24. Romneyidiot

    Rommy is a wrong, period. It is out of the poltilic. People who support romney are so low life and idiot.

    September 12, 2012 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
  25. JennyTX

    Romney could have responded with dignity. At most, simply condemn the attack on our embassy and offer prayers for the families of the victims. Instead, he gets his facts mixed up and foams at the mouth, making himself look like an under-informed idiot. He's a desperate man.

    September 12, 2012 10:23 pm at 10:23 pm |
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