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. shiststone

    MUTT DUMNEY!!!! Enough said!

    September 12, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  2. Mor Man NO!

    Romney your DISGRACEFUL. Yes, I can believe your an evil man, pathetic to use every low down trick to win the hearts and mind of older white people.

    September 12, 2012 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  3. Bleedingheart

    If you want a war vote for Romney. It's that simple.

    September 12, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  4. say anything, do anything to win

    sounds like ANOTHER ooopppsss for ole mitty!!

    September 12, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  5. tratra

    wow... Romney didn't even wait for the smoke to clear before he had to get his name in the air...

    My sympathies to those that have lost loved ones. Godspeed.

    September 12, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  6. pastapharian

    As pundits in his own party have stated, Romney is NOT ready for primetime, and is NOT presidential material.

    September 12, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  7. The Real Tom Paine

    Nothing quite like the knee-jerk, juvenile response from the Mormon aristocrat, is there?

    September 12, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  8. spinGolly

    This guy is a complete idiot trying to capitalize off the tragic deaths of goo Americans. Where is his sympathy for the families of the victims?

    September 12, 2012 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  9. Dan Atherton

    I do not understand why CNN is not questioning Romney's response that the Egyptian Embassy's statement "Apologized" for Free Speech. It did not. The statement Apologized for the very offensive USE of Free Speech. These are two VERY different things.

    September 12, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  10. Debra from Atlanta

    Nothing new here, he always find a way to twist the truth.

    September 12, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  11. 6km North of GZero

    Does Romney actually know where and what Egypt and Libya are? I guess he does if he has investments in them.

    September 12, 2012 02:41 pm at 2:41 pm |
  12. Randy, San Francisco

    Romney's criticisms at the beginning of a diplomatic crisis show that he puts political gain before the good of the country. He is not fit to answer the hot line in the White House at 3 am.

    September 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  13. lollin'

    Why is this article so wishy-washy with its language?
    "It looks like he may have twisted the narrative?"

    No, that's not sufficient: he lied. Mitt Romney is a liar, and he's lying.
    Get some cojones, CNN.

    September 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  14. Meka

    Everything that comes out of Romney's Mouth is in question!

    September 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  15. sharon

    Not fit to be president.
    He proved it with these statements.
    And the smirk on his face.

    September 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  16. Rick

    Romney is a desparate man appealling to an uniformed Republican base. He clearly has demonstrated that he has no brain and no integrity.

    September 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  17. FlipFlop

    Romney was for the movie, before he was against it

    September 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  18. rjf

    Oh good, your talking points have arrived.

    September 12, 2012 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  19. Maco

    This guy is incredible. Doubling down on the absurd just makes him look ridiculous.

    September 12, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  20. RealityBites

    Meanwhile..., 400,000 children in Chicage spend another day at home, or somewhere, while Obama's opinion evolves..

    September 12, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  21. joe

    i really don't want this loser representing our country. i am proud of president obama and he is a much more honorable man then rommey.

    September 12, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  22. mk1

    Once again Romney is proving himself to not be ready to assume the presidency of the US. He is so naive that should he win, our country will be in deep deep trouble, especially since his principal advisers are holdovers for the Bush years and you know how well foreign policy went under W. This man is truly a disgrace.

    September 12, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  23. Jay

    Romney is just a terrible human being and person. His first instinct is always to look for the worst in any situation and exploit it. I know people say they will vote for him because they hate the president but how could one live with voting for someone who don't have anything in common with them

    September 12, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  24. hemuda

    Today what Romney has done convince me not to vote for him. He is playing politics when American citizens have died in senseless attack. It confirms Romney is a liar.

    September 12, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  25. paulbark

    Tell it like it is. Romney didn't twist the facts. He lied. He puts his own selfish desire to be elected over the interests of the US. After 9/11, we all united behind Bush. After the ambassador is killed, Romney's gut instinct is to blame Obama, blame America. Romney isn't prepared to be president.

    September 12, 2012 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
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