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. Nelson the Cat

    Apparently Romney's politics don't stop at the water's edge any more than his tax havens do.

    September 12, 2012 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  2. Duane Allen

    OMG... this guy is an absolute idiot and the "talent" behind him are making a laughing stock of him. This is what desperation looks like folks. If you can't compete on merit or credentials bring on the clowns, for there's certainly no shortage of them in the Republican Party. Has he no pride or sense of self-respect... or how about basic human dignity? Mitt is nothing but blind ambition hell bent on making a fool of himself, disgracing whatever values, abject as they are, he may actually possess. Its another in a perpetual series of exercises of shooting one's self in the foot: DEFINITELY NOT PRESIDENTIAL QUALITY!

    September 12, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  3. noteaparty4me

    Romney was disgraceful. I am peeved. We are....Americans. May Sean Smtih and his staff rest in peace. I personally do not like what Mitt Romney said. HIs remarks were not presidential. He is not ready for prime time.

    September 12, 2012 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  4. Sniffit

    "I guess he shot himself in the foot.... lets hope it's fatal!!"

    Considering his foot was already in his mouth and his head was already in his backside, it may very well be.

    September 12, 2012 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  5. avalanche

    I am glad Romney challenged the embassy's apology. The idea that every time someone in the US criticizes Islam, the US has to issue apologetic statements is ridiculous. Sorry, but Islam is causing more misery in this world to Muslims and others than any other force. Its treatment of women and others is indefensible. This nation should be challenging Muslims to enter the 21st century instead of apologizing to them every time somebody points out that they are acting like barbarians.

    September 12, 2012 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  6. ricky68

    Mitt had better seen a psychiatrist before the third world war errupts. he does not convince me he went to Havard on merit, but with the help of the Island's account.

    September 12, 2012 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  7. Herb

    If we are to take Mitt's "outraged" characterization at face value, what then? Shoot first and ask questions later? Bomb Benghazi? Marines on the ground in Cairo? What? Oh, right, just puff out our chest, shout, and wring our hands more vigorously. Really!

    September 12, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  8. M-W-T

    Paul Ryan's potilical career is over because of Mitt Romney
    I really thought this guy had a future in politics.......not anymore
    Mr Ryan,....get out before its to late......Mitt Romney is the WRONG MAN for this job, everyone knows this!!!!
    Romney will end your sad.

    September 12, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  9. Mike

    "Nelson the Cat

    Apparently Romney's politics don't stop at the water's edge any more than his tax havens do."

    Wow. Just, wow. That's killer and, sadly, true.

    September 12, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  10. John The Electrician

    So what this "film Maker" did is free speech? He knew people could die. How is this any diffent than yelling fire in a movie theater?

    September 12, 2012 04:43 pm at 4:43 pm |
  11. pottermaine

    Total ignorance outwits Romney every time.

    September 12, 2012 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |

    You ask"Is Romney i twisting the facts on Libya as if there is some room for debate? Of course he is! He tried to score political points by rushing to the podium but all he did was reinforce how utterly incompetent he is! The smirk on his face as he is walking away from the podium is disgusting! Lord help us all if this man makes it to the White House and if he does the blame lies squarely in the lap of the media for making politics a game for rating rather than doing their pointing to the facts

    September 12, 2012 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  13. Shaolin Sword

    Hey Republican Party, if you are going to hold the whole country back by employing 4 years of nihilistic obstructionism, you could at least nominate a candidate who stood some chance of being elected. But no, it was all for nought. This is a foolish self absorbed man running a reactionary and depressing campaign. Hopefully, after the republicans get slammed again this year, there will at least be some cooperation.

    September 12, 2012 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  14. RTW

    Really bad time to attack the president for your own political gain, Mitt. I know he wasn't thinking about my safety or the safety of our soldiers or the safety of US citizens living in that region when he discounted the power of the current administration. He wasn't thinking about the four lives that were just lost in service to our country. Mitt is more interested in getting elected than anything else. It was a moment for Mitt to be a statesman and he blew it. Way to go, Mitt! You got your sound bite out there for the media. You twisted words again and I'm sick of it. I am a Republican who has voted that way for 30 years. I'm done.

    September 12, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  15. DP

    Words CLUELESS and ROMNEY are looking more and more synonymous as time goes by.

    September 12, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  16. freidamurray

    I don't think I can stand anymore untruths, lies, misstatements (whatever you want to call them) from Romney. He just can't wait for someting to happen, then blame Obama for it. This one is really twisted. Does he honestly think Obama would show sympathy for the attackers of OUR country's (Yes, the USA) embassy over the two killed by the attackers? Of course not! Just another attempt to bring up the M (Muslim) card, and that Obama is one of them. I am really hating this guy!!!

    September 12, 2012 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  17. mary

    Romney has already said he will follow the lead of Israel's leaders. I don't feel this was an apology. In an apology you say "I'm sorry". Condemning the actions of an idiot who made a stupid movie is not an apology. The embassy statement acknowledged and condemned the message of the movie, reiterated this after the embassy was attacked and condemned the attack.

    September 12, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  18. NickAnast

    It was clear that while the PROTESTS were taking place, the Embassy did the appropriate thing by trying to defuse the situation - not by apologizing (attention Obama haters: there was NO apology) but by making it clear that the video was not endorsed by the US. When protests turned into ATTACKS, the Embassy again did the approporiate thing by condemning the attacks.

    And Mitthead Rmoney did the grossly inappropriate thing by playing politics with an international incident.

    September 12, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  19. Ben

    Normally, I just think Romney would be a bad President. I don't share his belief that, left unfettered, free markets will solve all the country's problems.

    But today, I think Romney is a bad person. To look upon the murder of a US ambassador as a political opportunity is disgusting.

    September 12, 2012 04:47 pm at 4:47 pm |
  20. ObamaUntil2016

    And the narrative that the GOP wants to project, as "apologist in chief", is disproven again. The GOP can lie all they want but the facts always come out. And Mittney will go the way of Palin into obscurity.

    September 12, 2012 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  21. Bob in Ohio

    It is amusing to see some individuals posting here blaming the "liberal press" for actually directly quoting Mr. Romney's statements. What is a bit scary is that I think those individuals really believe what they are posting. I also find it interesting that some are accusing CNN of being part of the "liberal press". If this were the case, why would CNN not censor their comments? At least, unlike some "fair and balanced" websites, CNN does have an open forum. And finally, if CNN is truly part of the "liberal press", why would they be posting on CNN's website in the first place?

    September 12, 2012 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  22. ghost

    Romney's campaign seems to remind me more and more of the Hindenburg disaster, a black hole, a car crash,magnesium mixed with water........

    September 12, 2012 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  23. Annie

    Run as fast as you can from the Mormon Messiah! He is dumb and more than that he doesn't wait for the facts to come in. He's using freedom of speech, as his alibi. Kiss this evil cultist, GOODBYE! What a putz, what a zero. He has no clue about foreign diplomacy or military action. Draft dodgers just don't get it and we{the American Public} can see it, plain and simple! Dems will rule in 2012!

    September 12, 2012 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  24. Cat

    Rather than take time to assess what is going on, what caused it, what the implications of the situation were, he immediately opened his mouth and let fly half-baked accusations. The one tool in Mr. Romney's little tool box, bash someone else's decisions and actions. Here was his chance to step back and look presidential. Instead he just looked.... Romneyish.

    September 12, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
  25. J.Gittens

    Mitt is just a jack A Is he so desperate?My parents always said If one does not have anything good to say then one should shut up.

    September 12, 2012 04:50 pm at 4:50 pm |
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