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. Debby

    What Romney said is all true the one thats a pretzel is the liberal media.

    September 12, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  2. HUH?

    Romney showing the WORLD he is a dirtbag.

    September 12, 2012 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  3. NoTaxFormsThenfNoVote

    Mitt Romney: An imbecile and his reputation will be soon parted.

    September 12, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  4. craig

    Once again, Rmoney steps directly in the road apples. He has all the finesse of a lumbering elephant when it comes to foreign policy, and when that lack of skill is combined with his disregard for the truth the world instantly becomes a more dangerous place. This guy should be nowhere near the football, and he certainly shouldn't answer the phone at the White House at 0400. Is there nothing this man won't lie about?

    September 12, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  5. kenny

    taking political advantage of a national tragedy to fire up his radical base ... he might as well just say he'll take america to war against ANYONE that disagrees with us over ANYTHING... none of his relatives will be fighting in them...

    September 12, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  6. Judge Dredd

    Islam is an eye for an eye ideology right? Time to bring the Libyan Ambassador and 3 aides to the National Mall for retribution then? Nope. We're civilized.

    September 12, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  7. Larry

    So Romney's foreign policy experience is pretty much summed up by this:
    1) The foreigners from Connecticut who visited Massachusetts.
    2) Money hidden is foreign tax havens.
    3) Tarzan say: Big strong US always right, now shut up and take more jobs away from Americans so the business can be more profitable.

    September 12, 2012 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  8. cathyinca

    Tom W.

    Well said. I can't believe some of these comments!! Talk about clueless

    September 12, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  9. sarge

    The same old idiot heard from!

    September 12, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  10. jheron

    Romney, you screwed up. You know it.

    September 12, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  11. J.Gittens

    When are we Americans going to learn? Mitt your poll .# s should not even register right now

    September 12, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  12. Alan Simmons

    SO he got some times wrong. Who cares, the fact of the matter is that the administration nor an embassy has any grounds to make any statement for or against one religious faction or another. The fact they put out a condemnation on anyone who hurts muslim feelings when muslims in the Sudan kill christian missionaries, women that are raped in muslim countries are killed so it doesn't shame the family, and mutilation to genitals is done to ensure virginity yet heaven forbid someone offend them? That's exactly what we need to be. A bunch of apologetic wuss's in the face of barbaric people that have been given a free pass. God help this nation

    September 12, 2012 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
  13. Mark

    Romney would never state anything that was not factual. No republican would. They are honest, truthful Christians that always speak the truth just like the statement "Mission accomplished".

    September 12, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  14. Sandy

    I agree. Romney shoots first, thinks later. That's how we get young Americans wounded and killed.His lack of any foreign policy know-how becomes more apparent and more dangerous with every hour

    September 12, 2012 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  15. truth hurts

    >hannah - Put Romney in charge and we'll be at war in no time.

    did you happen to miss that little kerfuffle that obama escalated for the last 4 years over in a land called afghanistan???

    September 12, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  16. Calcommuter

    This was unfortunate for Mitt. His people probably told him to get out there quick and condemn the President for what just happened. Not a good idea. You dont condemn when you dont have the facts AND you dont condemn on the same day Americans lose their lives in an attack. Romney and Ryan have a fundamental flaw. Every single time they open their mouths they prove how ignorant they are. Ignorant to foreign policy, the American people, economy, common sense, etc...

    September 12, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  17. Michael Q

    Typical Republican response: war at all and any cost. How's that worked out for you? Heck, just blame Obama and all the Republicans will stand at attention.

    September 12, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  18. luvUamerica

    Romney and Ryan have lied so much, that it is hard to tell what's the truth between these two nitwits. Sad, sad day for America.

    September 12, 2012 05:01 pm at 5:01 pm |
  19. BlindSquirrel

    I think, for those who feel the US response should have been a military one, we should oblige and give each of them a gun and a plane ticket to Benghazi.

    September 12, 2012 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  20. Thomas

    Tom W
    This is a highly convoluted and downright disingenuous article. The U.S. embassy in Cairo issues a statement apologizing for offending Islamic sensitivities (because someone, somewhere, MADE A VIDEO), after which the embassy is attacked by a mob. CNN journalists then do a triple pretzel to convince readers that the Obama administration – the executive branch of our government (and the ones who dictate what the State Department and all our embassies shall and shall not say) – is not responsible for the statements made by the embassy in Cairo. Talk about bending over backwards and sideways to cover up Obama's rather obvious – and unAmerican – sympathies.

    "Mission accomplished" , unAmerican – sympathies.
    Tom W , can you say Ahmed Abdel Hadi Chalabi three time real fast ?

    We need and Bush again , and Romney is kinda like him.

    September 12, 2012 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  21. Mo

    politics aside.. romney love or obama love aside.. this is a very tactless path taken by romney.
    4 men died. our embassies were under attack. and all this idiot can do is use this opportunity to score points?
    he talks of 'catering to a religion'. may i remind you romney, it has been about 3 or 4 times you've tried to make it to the white house, and this is the FIRST time your religion did not stand in the way. had it not been for the deep hatred the tea party boys have for obama, your religion would, once again, have stood in your way. Yet you condemn the message sent by the us embassy?
    you truly are a hypocrite. at this point all i can say, if americans elect you into office, and you do as i am sure you will, proceed down bush's path unchecked (because i am quite sure that if you win the white house, the republicans will sweep both the senate and house).. this country will be done, as we have known it in the past. and only the american people can blame themselves for that.
    but show some decency. show some respect. not to me; not to the politicians; not to your donors... but to the 4 men who died, and to the flag they died representing.

    September 12, 2012 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  22. Nodack

    Romney is in campaign mode. Everything Obama does will be scrutinized and picked apart in the most negative way possible by the Romney team.

    All Obama has to do is declare his support for Oxygen. Then Romney and the GOP would suffocate themselves.

    September 12, 2012 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  23. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Such an embarrassment for the Republicans... I LOVE IT!

    September 12, 2012 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  24. Iconoclast

    I think it would be much more appropriate if the US were to apologize to the world for Mitt Romney. Talk about the "Ugly American", he be it!

    September 12, 2012 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  25. Anonymous

    Mister Romney's comments on this matter are irresponsible. They show him to be ill-informed and ill-equipped to lead the nation in foreign
    affairs. By injecting himself and his political agenda into a fluid and tragic
    situation without awareness or appreciation of the facts, he needlessly
    diverts attention and disrespects those who have lost their lives and/or
    loved ones.

    His comments were clearly intended to appeal to the lowest common denominator within his base and are more of the same bellicose rhetoric so poorly suited to the complexities of the Middle East and so common from the right.

    And, as further facts emerge, they are shown to be hopelessly inaccurate to boot.

    As a (still) swing voter, this makes me very doubtful that
    Mr. Romney possesses the experience, restraint or judgement to lead in times of
    international crisis.

    Mr. Romney lost any remaining chance of earning my vote

    September 12, 2012 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
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