Romney's political pretzel over Libya
September 12th, 2012
02:23 PM ET
10 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.

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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. zapper

    So Romney got the order of events wrong, AND the content of the message wrong, AND clearly doesn't understand what happened, AND is still trying to use Steven's death to sound tough to boost his lagging campaign?

    There's no way someone this clueless and arrogant should ever occupy the White House.

    September 13, 2012 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  2. Dave, CA

    Regardless of how you feel about President Obama- Mitt's comments were the words of a completely out of touch, disgusting opportunist. They were also very un American and very unpresidential. Good luck with that Mitt. You'e done. You and your smirk can go home now.

    September 13, 2012 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  3. SafeJourney

    @Bob, the media is calling out romney because romney is WRONG. Even the repubs say romney is wrong

    September 13, 2012 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  4. ST

    How come that every test which is thrown to Romney, he fails. From his VP pick, to the convention and now comes foreign affairs.

    September 13, 2012 08:56 am at 8:56 am |
  5. Are you kidding me?

    Who does Willard think he is. Last I check he holds no official position within our government. Candidates have no business commenting on issues that are occurring they have not control over. In this instance Willard and Ryan are not aware of the facts and are in NO position to do anything. We have one administration at a time... 1!

    My question is simple: has the GOP candidates proven to be better statesmen than our president? NO!

    September 13, 2012 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  6. riabm60

    Romney's attack on Obama was launched way before the facts were even out.
    Please Mitt, and take that smirk of your face when you talk about violence and death.
    Let's not forget the victims in this cowardly attack. R.I.P.

    September 13, 2012 08:57 am at 8:57 am |
  7. MollyBee

    The Republican Party and Mitt Romney, in particular, have forgotten that, in America, we are all on the same side. Shame on them for attempting to portray that the American people don't stand with their President in foreign affairs. This is a dangerous game they are playing. It seems, they will NEVER admit that they lost the President's seat fair and square....they think that somehow it was a big mistake. Never before have we witnessed such disrespect, lack of patriotism, fear mongering, divisive politicking and just plain dirty tricks on the part of a political party. When did it become okay to act with such fecklessness?

    September 13, 2012 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  8. Jason G

    If Romney is elected, we will be mired in war for the next four years, starting the day after the elections..

    September 13, 2012 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  9. That Guy

    What a clown. I used to think he would say anything to get elected. Now I've realized that he is dangerous for our country AND will say anything to get elected.

    September 13, 2012 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  10. Jaun in El Paso

    Candidate Obama in 2008 would have done the same thing, however the libeal media would have praised him. It is amazing how the Obama administrations mishandling of this has turned full force to Romney, so they can avoid how weak Obama is and how weak he makes american look.

    September 13, 2012 09:02 am at 9:02 am |
  11. Anonymous

    This was the same day Vladimir Putin personally thanked Romney for calling Russia the USA's number one enemy and firming up Russian resolve to oppose western influence and friendship in any and all diplomatic matters going forward.

    It's a shame CNN isn't giving that story the front page coverage it is to Kate Middleton's baby rumors.

    September 13, 2012 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  12. quinLee

    At least Romney's not flip flopping on this one. He is doubling down and sending talking points to everyone to support his lie. Too bad McCain and other aren't willing to back him. They are just watching him twist in the wind. Talk about self destructing.

    September 13, 2012 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  13. Jaun in El Paso

    To HEHE – I'm a middle class Engineer so I am neither A or B, but if you are talking about the liberal view of the world, what Obama wants it to look like, then yes. I want it to burn – methaphorically.

    September 13, 2012 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  14. NameTRAVIS

    ROMNEY has proven that the first thing he would do is to go to war first ask questions later! As long as his 1% gets another tax cut.

    September 13, 2012 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  15. julie

    @ HEHE..........this is so TRUE especially B) stupid


    September 13, 2012 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  16. gurgyl

    I told long time ago, Mitt is a total disgrace to this nation along with GOP thugs. We have biggest Al Queda here in the form of GOP. True.

    September 13, 2012 09:07 am at 9:07 am |
  17. Observant Historian

    Regardless of what one thinks of Obama, is there much of anything Mitt Romney says that isn't twisting the facts, outright lies, deliberate mis-statements, or reversals of previous positions in order to pander to the extreme right (or just simply try to obstruct and undermine the President)? For that matter, can't the same be said about the Republican party in general for the past four years?

    September 13, 2012 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  18. Bizzy

    For all the nimrods who think Mitty is a 'real' leader because he shoots first and asks questions later, just remember it was that type of stupidity that got us into two wars and debt up to our necks.

    September 13, 2012 09:09 am at 9:09 am |
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