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. Independent jim

    Zack must not have read the article it gives a clear time line ... Romney did what the GOP/TP always does twisted the facts to meet their own needs .. any one running for office should never disrespect the office they are running for ..disagree but dont lie

    September 12, 2012 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  2. J

    Somebody get Romney's foot out of his mouth.

    September 12, 2012 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  3. Izzy

    Hugh Jass

    "The Leni Reifenstahl/Joseph Goebbels wing of the democrat party" Sorry, according to Godwin's Law, you lose the argument and must go away. I don't make these rules. You are also in violation of Wheaton's Law.

    You are right! I the more accurate comparision is Pravda. Either way, most of the carpet bombing Axelrod PR Obamabot scribes are out in force. Both Prava "journalists" and Goebbels were masters of the lie. It does not make much difference, but here it is. My apology. What is here is the Pravda wing of the democrat party.

    September 12, 2012 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  4. John

    On 9/11 he attacked America. Completly and totally unfit for office.

    September 12, 2012 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  5. FedUpRepublican

    I'm not a big Obama fan by any stretch, but I've grown to dislike the Republican party of the 21st century and the shamelessly pandering Romney even more. His quick criticism of Obama appears to be nothing less than gleeful hand-ringing at the thought of scoring political points over the death of four Americans. Very cheap and sleazy.

    September 12, 2012 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  6. jyves95

    Romney must be a Green Bay player. He's losing not because others are better than him. He's losing because of himself.

    September 12, 2012 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  7. John Patrick Grace

    Romney-Ryan seem bent on imploding almost on a daily basis. They would gain more traction perhaps if they just kept their mouths shut - at least until after a news item has been fully digested. Their standard response seems to be: fire – ready – aim. If they did have recourse to the now celebrated "I misspoke," they'd have to use it three times a week. By the time we get to the debates, Romney-Ryan will be far down in the polls. Even blue-collar white males seem to be giving Obama a second look – or seeing what they can do to shrug off their prejudices against him. That's the last voting bloc Romney-Ryan can hope to attract. If they lose those types, forget it.

    John Patrick Grace
    Huntington, West Virginia

    September 12, 2012 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  8. Sunrays

    It is not about being soft in front of’s about standing your ground for the right and the just. Was the movie message right? The answer is "NO", was it right for America do censor the movie (even if it had the power)? The answer is "NO", does the movie justify the attacks on the embassy? The answer is "No"

    So one might ask what is the right course....
    1. Condemn the movie and remind everyone our values of tolerating other religions
    2. Remind everyone that we do have freedom of speech where you can say anything, people who abuse this rights should be called on to justify their act
    3. Condemn the attack and bring those to justice.
    Now if I am following the thread correctly I think that is exactly what the President of United States and his administration is doing.

    Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan please grow up and do some serious reading on world history too so that we all do not talk and issue statements which are incoherrent.

    September 12, 2012 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  9. Lando're TOAST...absolutely in November

    September 12, 2012 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  10. Mk54

    Romney has made a career out of profiteering from other people's tragedy. The embassy attack must have seemed like just another "opportunity" to be exploited.

    September 12, 2012 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  11. xandersun

    It just never makes sense to attack a sitting President on foreign policy unless it is a monumental, long drawn out disaster that is clearly the fault of the President (like an unpopular war). Otherwise, it just makes you look petty and unpatriotic. It's not Romney's lack of foreign policy experience that is the only problem, it's his lack of just any plain political common sense at the national level. But I guess, like father, like son.

    September 12, 2012 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  12. Dnick47

    Romney is a lying opportunist. Problem is trying to figure out which are his lies and what he really believes: is there any difference? I wonder.

    September 12, 2012 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  13. Rain

    Another example that Romney has absolutely no idea about foreign policy.

    September 12, 2012 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  14. edw

    Like CNN stated this morning, Mitt Romney stepped in it this morning. He knows that the President didn't make an apology. I wish that Romney had an ounce of integrity that John McCain did during his campaign.

    September 12, 2012 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  15. dontbow

    obama is a worthless president and this is yet more proof. he can't even condemn violence like this without apologizing to muslims first.

    September 12, 2012 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  16. mark

    As retired military I find Mitt Romneys attack of president obama on the tradgedy in Libya both idiotic and untimely. Maybe Mr. Romney is just so desperate to gain votes that he has to resort to giving a news conference and conveying false facts. If Romney had it his way way would be be bombing the people of libya only hoping to kill the hand full who were directly responsible. I want a president who gathers all the facts and options then takes action. Not one who is trigger happy

    September 12, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  17. JMK

    what a pathetic soul Mitt Romney is. He is a billionaire with nothing left to need or want except to be President, and he will do whatever he thinks it takes to get there, say stupid comment after stupid comment, take millions from billionaires, but hopefully this position can't be bought and this guy finally goes away. As simple as this sounds, I would NEVER vote for a man who had the judgement to stick his dog in a crate on top of a car and drive, and think that was ok.
    This from a person who found out who the real Mitt Romeny was, shamefully, I must say ,he fooled me once, but never again!

    September 12, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  18. inathens

    The problem in communication began when the embassy in Cairo released an unauthorized statement. This is what Romney and others, as well, first pounced on before there were more serious matters like the death of the ambassador. It was wholly appropriate to jump on that first statement that was released. Obama and his state department should have careful and well-managed control over such statements. Obama is trying to govern from two positions and to placate two groups. The first statement his administration released was a mistake (proven in the fact it was retracted) and there lies the problem. Romney's mis-accounting of the timeline has very little to do with that or any of the issue at hand – it doesn't help or hurt his story. And it's irrelevant because the real problem lies with how Obama's representatives in the state department and abroad represented his administration.

    September 12, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  19. Donkey Party

    The comments from the right-wingers here are a perfect representation of how ALL right-wingers are insanely ignorant, illiterate, and delusional. They should be quarantined for our safety as well as their own.

    September 12, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  20. UDidntBuildThat

    I'm extremely disappointed that the GOP candidate for president has created a political debate over a senseless, criminal act that absolutely should not be politicized less than 24 hours after it occured. The GOP candidate's action goes far beyond the pale of politics, good sense and reason. He jumps to conclusions in a way that is most unpresidential.
    U know what I'm extremely disappointed in? When Axelrod launched attacks against Romney yesterday, not a peep fr CNN bout this blatant disrespect for the vicitims of Sept 11. Nothing fr the Democrat's media.

    Obama screwed up here. This attack was planned and Obama admin knew about it. That is why the embassies were evacuated prior to the attack. Now watch for the cover up of yet this incompetent Admin.

    September 12, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  21. anguscat0

    Intel ignored week before – US attacked – twice – Obama embarrassed – CNN criticizes Romney

    September 12, 2012 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  22. Nick-o

    oh well, back to shoot first, think second politics.

    September 12, 2012 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  23. Don Lewis

    Richard Williamson, Foreign Policy Advisor to Mitt Romney needs to be reassigned to a back office job answering phones if he can't act professional on camera. He was argumentive just now on CNN with Don Lemon and did the same on MSNBC earlier.

    September 12, 2012 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  24. UDidntBuildThat

    Nathan Republicans were attacking Obama allday on 9/11 after saying that there would be a campaign truce
    Pants on fire?

    September 12, 2012 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  25. dontbow

    weak president, weak response. the apologizer in chief

    September 12, 2012 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
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