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. Sheri Lee

    What ever Romney he is just making this a political issue, he does not have the facts. And when they do find who did this. Romney will say they did not do this fast enough or he would not waste time going after them. All do we know this terrorist group was paid off by the GOP to smear Obama. We could say this just as well as those that don't have their real facts.

    September 12, 2012 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  2. lizzyrn

    Mr. Romney needs to take a crash course in how to respond to a crisis. If this is how he is going to react, maybe people should rethink voting for him.

    September 12, 2012 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  3. CanadaONE

    Romney will DESTROY AMERICA in less than a year if he becomes president

    the world is a little more complicated than the Cayman Islands and he will cost America their FUTURE

    the WORST MISTAKE Americans can make – GOD HELP YOU – our prayers are with you

    September 12, 2012 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  4. David in Florida

    Romney is a real piece of work. Instead of standing united with the Office of the President of the United States, he totally disrespects it and puts our president in the position of having to explain the future course of action the United States will take in this matter.

    The man should go back to Mexico where his father came from and stop putting our diplomatic and armed service members at unnecessary risk with his attempt to politicize this dangerous matter.

    September 12, 2012 06:48 pm at 6:48 pm |
  5. marc

    Romney = I D I O T someone who we don't need as a President and his loser pick as VP, can't imagine that twirp as President.

    September 12, 2012 06:50 pm at 6:50 pm |
  6. Bill from Rochester

    I am totally ashamed of Mitt Romney and his campaign machine. There is a time to put the 'big lie' strategy aside, but every time the truth might help, he doubles down on the lies.

    Obama has done nothing wrong. His policies led to the killing of the #2 Al Qaeda monster, and this was a revenge killing for that. For Romney to claim otherwise is offensive to all forms of common sense. I am outraged.

    September 12, 2012 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  7. midnitejax

    Romney lying?? No!!! Say it ain't so!! He's never going to be able to buy his way to Planet Goleb at that pace!!

    September 12, 2012 06:51 pm at 6:51 pm |
  8. zoyster1

    Did everyone see the coordinated set-up of the liberal media during the Romney press conference? Romney was absolutely correct in everything he said and yet the media didn't hesitate to defend their savior Obama in droves. Just look at the CNN headlines about Romney and you can see how insidious the left wing media really is. We will remember this, CNN. There are consequences to the things in which you're complicit.

    September 12, 2012 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  9. Randy

    Why is it necessary for CNN to put a question mark after this statement? "Romney Twisting Facts." An objective look at the facts and at what he said show that he is, indeed, 'twisting facts.' Even that is a nice way of saying it. But, ever Fair and Balanced, CNN has to put the apologetic question mark after a statement of fact, as long as that fact offends Republicans.

    September 12, 2012 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  10. Bobbynorwich

    And the reality is Romney who will say anything to get out of a jam, to save his hide if inside that compound would have said something like: "We condemn the radical Christian fundamentalists who made this disgraceful anti-Muslim video, we will arrest and torture them, and then we will send them to their deaths."

    Mitt'll say anything that helps Mitt, the truth be damned. I don't want this guy as my mailman, much less my President.

    September 12, 2012 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  11. Kevin

    Whenever there is a national tragedy like the attack on the U.S. Libyan embassy and the loss of American life, there should not be any political divide. These unfortunate events should never be used for political gain by one party or the other. It speaks volumes that a candidate for the presidency would stoop so low as to use this event for political gain.

    September 12, 2012 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  12. mike

    Mitt is as dangerous to the world as he is to our country and his own party. That's why republicans condemned his comments as irresponsible. All republicans want to do is start wars with anybody's kids but their own.

    September 12, 2012 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  13. tkret

    This was Romney's best day yet. He immediately responded to the US Embassy situations in Egypt and Libya. Hillary (who looked like h__1 by the way) didn't sound like what she was saying this morning was what was in her heart. Then obama spoke, and he sounded like he was going through the motions, saying things he was supposed to say, and thinking I wish I was anyplace but here.
    How concerned is obama about this situation? I don't know, ask him, he's in Las Vegas campaigning.

    September 12, 2012 07:01 pm at 7:01 pm |
  14. CAL USA

    What was it Newt Gingrich called Romney? Oh, yes it was a liar!

    September 12, 2012 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  15. USwatcher

    Romney standing at a podium with American flags behind him pretending to be like a president...condemning our President...shameful,foolish and treacherous.

    September 12, 2012 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  16. Jimmy B

    Whatever you think, mitt has no concept of world issues or domestic issues for that matter, not to mention domestic issues. Did anyone see the RNC convention. He is so out of touch. He makes no sense, Maybe he and Palin can work together. We need to stop letting ignorant people embarrass the USA, at least were domestic and foreign policy is concerned. He makes no sense. Did anyone see the Mitt in the UK. What a joke! He's running around trying to do anything to get elected. He thinks we are idiots........don't go for it.

    September 12, 2012 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  17. Loren Middleton

    This latest gaff is further proof that Romney is not fit to lead in foreign affairs issues, lacks the requisite insight and intellectual competence to deal with the complex and fragile nature of the events in the middle east. Moreover, it indicates his increasing desperation to deceive the voters into believing that he is even a realistic alternative....

    September 12, 2012 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  18. batjones

    If Terry Jones and Morris Sedak want to promote provocative movies in the Middle East then they should expect the people of the Middle East to react according to Middle Eastern standards not American standards. The lesson that we have learned from Mitt Romney today is that the lives of our diplomatic corps have no value. Mitt Romney should reflect upon his days in France and the safe haven that was provided to him during the Vietnam War. There are hundreds of Americans that live and work abroad. Each American abroad becomes a target when selfish people like Terry Jones, Morris Sedak and Mitt Romney want to stand on principles from a safe distance.

    September 12, 2012 07:04 pm at 7:04 pm |
  19. Rodney YouFire

    Rodney is a disgrace!! Shame on anyone that will be voting for this idiot!! He makes Sarah Palin looks like a ginius!! LOL , Tea party people, Obama haters!! I hate to say it but PRESIDENT OBAMA THIS WON THE ELECTION!!! RODNEY YOUR ARE FIRED!!! RYAN YOU BETTER START CAMPAINING FOR YOUR SENATE SEAT

    September 12, 2012 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  20. manhandler1

    So.......Romney is upset that the consulate condemned a film that shows Mohammed on his knees with his head between a seated womans legs? Is THAT the kind of frere speech he's so incensed about protecting. Because That is what the consulate is that an apology? This guy is a dolt....even the Republicans are having a fit. He's toast. Go away!

    September 12, 2012 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  21. teacher

    I was called a short time ago to participate in a town hall meeting with Romney. I listened for a while and had just decided to ask him a question about why he always says he has a plan but never explains how it will be implemented and how he can say that Obama is going to destroy small business with a tax increase, which is clearly not what the president has said, when this voice came on and said they were taking a poll. If I supported Romney – push 1. If I supported Obama – push 2. If I were still undecided – push 3 and later in the meeting I could change my mind. I pushed 2. A voice said my choice had been recorded and I was cut off. I guess they didn't like my choice. Free speech only counts if you push the right number.

    September 12, 2012 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  22. mikithinks

    Well, the Romney campaign has said that it would not let fact checkers effect their talking points. It seems that they will pot even let the true facts effect their talking points. Prior to Bush's election, I told friends that the neo-cons would have as at war within a year, I was a little off then. Romney is listening to the same people and will have our children. not his), at war. He may be wealthy, but he has no class.

    September 12, 2012 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  23. Eric

    Of course Romney screwed up, like he screws up every time he tries to talk tough. And then he back-tracked, flip-flopped, and reinvented the timelines. Par for the course. I wonder how he reacts to the tens of millions of people who say he practices a self-delusional sham religion invented by a con artist. Do you think the first thing he says is "thank you for saying that? You're right. I should stop running for President. And I appreciate your right to say whatever you want."

    September 12, 2012 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  24. G Smith

    Romney is simply neither ready or has the competence to be the Commander In Chief.

    If Romney became POTUS, we would be at WAR with someone in the first 100 days of his Presidency.

    September 12, 2012 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
  25. Bic Spinach

    A Republican politician running his mouth off before knowing the facts? Color me shocked.

    I will be looking forward to his upcoming backpedaling on the subject though.

    September 12, 2012 07:12 pm at 7:12 pm |
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