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. Femi Ajiboye

    It is shocking to read all the disgusting response above. People had lost their lives. Mothers, children, fathers, unles, aunt are mourning and what do I read, Americans blaming their president. All of you must be worst generation of America. Your ancestors will be shaking in their graves. A time you are suppose to come together you are playing politics. Yes their is freedom of speech but it comes with responsiblity. Americans must learn to respect the felines of other people. That is what true christianity is about. May God comfort the familily ofthe bereaved. Amen!

    September 12, 2012 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  2. edk

    The British have it right – Mitt the Twit!

    September 12, 2012 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  3. UDidntBuildThat

    IndependentMom- smell a rat.... WHO was behind the hideous film? And don't the IDIOTS KNOW that any insult to Muhammad would lead to violence against Americans?! I SUSPECT a rat, a Conservative rat behind this film. How evil that the filmmaker would insult a whole culture! NOT ALL Muslims are terrorists.
    it is the DEMORC-RAT IN HOLLYWOOD!!!
    Tell me when Obama was insulting the Christians "clinging to their guns and bilble" was that an " abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others." as the Obama Embassy decried against the very "RATS" that made the film?

    September 12, 2012 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  4. GeneK

    So let's see what we have so far...

    "President Romney" will be able to express his outrage about killings of US diplomats hours before they actually happen.
    There is no distinction between freedom of speech and the content of that speech.
    "Our values" mean that even if we think someone's free speech is offensive, we can't speak out against the content or that would be "sending mixed signals."
    We should never apologize for the statements of even our most hateful extremists who go out of their way to offend others.

    September 12, 2012 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  5. Amused

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again, Mitt Romney proves again and again that not only is his greatest enemy his own mouth, but that when it comes for foreign policy, he is nothing greater or less than the AMERICAN BORAT!

    September 12, 2012 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  6. Geedub

    Romney & the GOP nutjobs want to proceed with the 4th Crusade

    September 12, 2012 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  7. FactCheck

    Maybe the attacks where part of the security briefings. President Obama has only attended 43% of them?

    It's time for you to take the tinfoil hat off. Romney is done so deal with it.

    September 12, 2012 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  8. Brad Olsen

    Mr Toughguy Mitt, who ran away from the Viet Nam War talks tough. He has 5 sons who he says had other things to do than join the military. Sounds like 6 chicken hawks to me.

    September 12, 2012 06:16 pm at 6:16 pm |
  9. GI Joe

    Southern preacher incites violence and possibly war ----

    Romney backing the southern preacher all the way.

    26 days folks. Early voting starts in just 26 days. Do it – vote – then turn the TV off to the fear and hate-mongering republicans. 3 weeks and 5 days to early voting.

    September 12, 2012 06:17 pm at 6:17 pm |
  10. Pa Voter

    What a crock, we all know this is Obama's world at work. He and his administration are fully responsible for setting the World on fire.

    September 12, 2012 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  11. Zoey

    So Romney suggests that our country is respectful of all religious beliefs. That's really funny. I don't know of one single republican that is respectful of any other religion than what they consider to be Christianity and I know A LOT of republicans.
    Misguided fools.....

    September 12, 2012 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  12. GI Joe

    Ryan/Romney have lied and lied, they've tried to buy the elections, steal the elections, intimidate the people with hate mongering and fear mongering.

    Didn't we go thru this in 2000 and 2004 when Rove was younger?

    September 12, 2012 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  13. GathisNC

    This whole thing proves how much of a joke the Obama administration is. All the apologizing for being an American at the first of his term has earned him nothing in the world's eyes, except for lack of respect.
    He sends the Muslim brotherhood in Libya1.5 billion in taxpayer money and they kill our ambassador. He Apologizes for a movie someone made, then afterward retracts the statement. It's clear that he is clueless. Why do people keep taking up for this guy?

    I don't remember anyone especially a president, apologizing for offending movies that portray Christ in a bad light.
    Why apologize for the free speech we have in the US to those who hate you no matter what you do to appease them? Romney called Obama weak on leadership, and I'm sorry to say that it's true.

    September 12, 2012 06:19 pm at 6:19 pm |
  14. Anonymous

    This ass is willing to scrap the bottom ot the barrel, and go out of his way to launch his venomous diatribe against the
    US Government at a moment we should,( and in fact most of republican politicians have ) restrained from appearing weak by trying to appear macho for a mere phyrric political gain.
    As pres. Obama said, how can you trust and believe a candidate that shoot his mouth before he has time to think through.

    September 12, 2012 06:20 pm at 6:20 pm |
  15. Larry L


    Seriously, did any of you people actually read the article before you commented? Or perhaps the better question is, are you people just too ideologically blind or simply too ignorant to understand?..
    Did you actually read the President's statement? Not the article – the actual statement? Is it wrong for the President to explain that America does not support religious bigotry? Is it wrong to say America believes in freedon of speech? When you right-wingers try to attack the President in the very middle of a crisis it shows how your hatred overpowers all other considerations. If Republicans wouldn't try to find political significance in every governmental action, and obstruct every initiative we might be able to better deal with the problems that face our Nation. Can you ever make a comment without an insult? Be a patriot in times of crisis – not a pawn of Fox news.

    September 12, 2012 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  16. Lauren

    So is this really a "pretzel" for Romney or are the liberals in the mainstream media manufacturing a pretzel to distract from President Obama's numerous foreign policy failures? This is the same media that ignored the fact that in one trip overseas Romney forged strong and mutually friendly relationships with our allies in Poland and Israel–the very people that Obama has spurned on several occasions over the last 3 years–and instead focused on a misguided (but accurate) comment Romney made to British leaders.

    September 12, 2012 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  17. stainpouch

    Willard should butt out. He's not the President. He will never be the President.

    September 12, 2012 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  18. nu2abq

    Take a step back everyone!
    Both of these countries are still suffering from the fall out of civil wars. There are two competing sides in both of these countries. We are there trying to maintain a relationship with the new governments.
    I lost a family member during a civil war in the 50's. He was killed by a mob caught up in a similar state of outrage that sought out Americans to kill. Natives of that country tried to save him but couldn't.
    The American citizens risking their lives to bring peace to the region should not be criticized for any communication they make! The average American has no idea what the real situation is on the ground and should reserve any and all comments condemning these brave Americans. They are putting their lives on the line for the greater good of everyone including Muslims on both sides of this fight.
    Until we quit demonizing everyone's choice of religion, we will have these tragic results play out into perpetuity!
    Please do not question the wisdom and patriotism of those that serve us overseas.

    September 12, 2012 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  19. JC in Western U.S.

    I really don't care about the timing of Romney's response. I care that he spoke out against the President of the United States. There is only one President at a time. Embassies are considered to be a piece of the nation thy represent. Ours were attacked. What did Romney do? He attacked the president, undermining a unified response which should be the only kind of response to an attack on our country and the death of our ambassador.

    September 12, 2012 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  20. SirBo

    In a very close election, Romney was just being politically opportunistic. He jumped on the opportunity presented by the events in the Middle East to regurgitate an old and tired line about Obama being apologetic for America. With the tough electoral vote math facing him, Romney was surely not going to allow statement timelines or other facts distract him from doing what is politically necessary here: Attack your opponent.

    September 12, 2012 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  21. David Alten

    This Political Unit must be a bunch of Obama supporters because otherwise their plain ignorance and blind support for a president who has ONLY shown to us that he's totally incompetent and truly inept when it comes to leading this country, in and outside the U.S. We are simply tired of his support for crazy people and their beliefs, but he's perfectly OK with criticizing his own beliefs and the beliefs of 80% of Americans... I'm not in the 80%, but I'm surely not blind when I see BIAS in government, and Mr. President, you're bias against Christians, and I still don't understand why, if you're indeed a devoted Christian... maybe you're not anymore, and you have evolved? If you're re-elected, I'm sure you will "surprise" us with the revelation that indeed you have evolved and now you believe that the Muslim faith is what you accept as yours. Which I think it's OK, but at least have some respect for the rest of us WHO ARE NOT MUSLIMS, WOULD YA?

    September 12, 2012 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  22. normajean @ verizon ,com

    HERE HE GOES AGAIN......BOTH FEET IN HIS ARROGANT MOUTH .....HE JUST DOESN'T KNOW WHEN TO SHUT UP!!!!!!!! Romney thinks he can make public statements criticizing the president without it coming back and hitting him in the face....but it quite often does just that........ If this man were president...his fat mouth would have us in trouble with the rest of the world before sundown!!!! He is dangerous because he speaks before he thinks....continually....HOW CAN ANYONE TAKE THIS PERSON SERIOUSLY????...It scares me to think of him as president!!!

    September 12, 2012 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  23. Indyswimmer66

    Can you imagine Romney being president? He's itching to drop bombs on somebody... anybody! What a diplomatic disaster he is... would be!

    September 12, 2012 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  24. chan

    @Tilly.. Can I call your wife a b word everyday and hide behind freedom of speech? NO

    September 12, 2012 06:24 pm at 6:24 pm |
  25. Mari

    Romney's criticism of President Obama while the crisis was still unfolding was crass, opportunistic and downright low. There's a time and place for politicking and doing it while Americans have died in such a terrible way isn't it. The guy's an inept throwback who lacks the judgement, finesse and statesmanship required for the job. The way he tried to exploit this tragedy made me queasy.

    September 12, 2012 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
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