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. Uthor

    Romney jumped in to make quick political points by benefiting from the deaths of four people. A wiser man would have simply waited a short time before trying to make political hay from a tragedy.

    He's a man without any influence over anything, except perhaps protecting his own wealth. And, we can even more clearly see, furthering his desperate desire to win at any cost. Romney will change position, tell lies, and say just about anything.

    He must think he's running for prep school class president.

    September 12, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  2. Mark

    Romney just doesn't get it at all. When you are in a volitile situation you often release statements to defuse situations. This is not weakness. When police encounter a situation in which an individual has become unglued they tell that individual what they want/need to hear to SAVE LIVES! The hostage negotiators don't use the tragedy as an opportunity to push their political or ideological views. They realize that for those important hours you do what you need to do. And NOBODY was apologizing. There is a big difference between condeming a film that incites violence and apologizing. Romney came off as ignorant AND as a political oportunist. The man needs to focus on the economy because that is the only real chance he has at defeating Obama. Putting his lack of tact on foreign policy in the spotlight will not do good things for his campaign.

    September 12, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  3. Craig RB

    Romney just put another nail in his campaign coffin. This man is not a patriot and he's politically amateurish.

    September 12, 2012 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  4. ronb

    Romney is so terribly unfit to be president. The look on his face in this article says it all – "oops. I screwed the pooch." But, as soon as he opens his mouth, his shortcomings as a potential commander in chief come glaring out!! We've had enough "shoot from the hip" nonsense for one century. You are done Mr. Romney. Totally classless act. Sometimes, you should just be quiet. ..... Like now.

    September 12, 2012 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  5. normajean @ verizon ,com need to check the news media a little more closely....YOU ARE WRONG!!!

    September 12, 2012 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  6. works4me

    Enjoy GOP... and it's fact-free

    September 12, 2012 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  7. cw

    Romney MUST be putting on an act, NOBODY an be this ignorant.

    September 12, 2012 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  8. Chip

    Why did the Obama administration rebuke Governor Romney before they ever got around to making a statement on what happened? Makes it pretty obvious which fight is more important to Barack.

    September 12, 2012 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  9. GEdwards

    This is a CNN article???? It reads more like a DNC Press release.

    September 12, 2012 07:19 pm at 7:19 pm |
  10. David

    Yeah, I wish Bush was still in office, I mean, there was a guy whose foreign policy was air-tight...
    If the Right wants to blame the Obama administration for something as out of their control as a rocket attack in Libya, then shouldn't they accept the blame for 9/11? You can't have it both ways, you ignorant, knee jerk, conservative children...
    Ooooh, if only JOHN McCAIN had been elected, we'd never ever be IN this mess!!! WAAAAAH!!!

    September 12, 2012 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  11. Tony

    I can't believe some of you are trying to defend Romney's statement as being accurate. The embassy's apologetic statement was issued before the protests became violent, as an attempt to throw some water on the fire that this idiot filmmaker started. And no one is condemning freedom of speech, they simply acknowledged the insensitivity and irresponsibility of individuals who condemn an entire religion based on the views and actions of it's most extreme fanatics. The embassy stands by that statement, but obviously condemns the violence. Does it make any logical sense that the embassy would issue a statement of apology to their attackers while the embassy was under attack. Mitt Romney clearly put his foot in his mouth, but I guess if you hate Barack Obama enough, you'll believe anything.

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

    Romney's big mouth and eagerrness to turn a tragedy into an opportunity for political gain demonstrates exactly why he should never ever be elected as president. Shameful and distasteful behavior. I hope the American people see him for what he is.

    September 12, 2012 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  13. The Unsub

    my god over 760 posts! WILLARD "MITTENS" ROMNEY IS FINISHED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2012 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  14. Uthor

    You watch the video of Romney trying to spin his own spin, and you realize that he knows this was an amateur hour mistake.

    Some advisor, handler, or aide is probably catching the devil for suggesting that thoughtless and heartless comment Romney made...

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

    Can't Romney just keep his friggin big mouth shut and support our President and our country in this time of stress and turmoil? Why does he need to politicize and try to twist the situation to make himself look good? It ain't working Mitt – this is one Republican who's fed up with your B.S.

    September 12, 2012 07:24 pm at 7:24 pm |
  16. NorCalMojo

    "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

    September 12, 2012 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  17. greg

    holly mackerel, how does he do that, I mean it takes skill to always say the wrong thing at the worst possible moment.

    September 12, 2012 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  18. NorCalMojo

    Read the State Department statement on the Embassy attack in Cairo. If that's not appeasement, nothing is.

    September 12, 2012 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  19. ZipWizard

    Romney, as a presidential candidate, showed a calous disregard for foriegn policy protocol.
    He has no breifings and is virtually stabbing at half truths and lack of information, but change by-the-hour news briefs.
    A true leader measures his response. Maybe he bought into the lie that Obama is a Muslim Communnist. (Neither of which is true. Muslims do not side with gays, and communists don't help capitolism, such as auto companies.) That would be indicated by his illusion that Obama was sympathizing with the protesters. If Obama had shot of his mouth like Romney was doing, we could very well had dead embassy personell at the Egyptian location as well. The idea is to calm the masses, get them to back away so help can arrive. Embassies are not military command basses, per say. They are to process visas, and welcome people to America. Yelling at the protesters is NOT going to save is going to make things more violent.

    The people inside should not have to die senselessly just because a politician wants to make some noise. And on top of that, embassy personell are not meant to be dispensable like soldiers in war are. They are typically to encourage peace and understanding. Sending news of social changes back to the State Dept is one of their jobs, but a noble one, as well. They should not be called upon to die for it.

    Romeny's response to the embassy breaches is as dangerous as when Bush II's shoot from the hip responses got America in hot water before.

    September 12, 2012 07:25 pm at 7:25 pm |
  20. Pete

    I can't see how the embassy's statement equates to an apology, unless you lack basic reading comprehension skills, or hate religious tolerance. It doesn't say "sorry" or "apologize" or "regret" anywhere. This is just another example of Romney's desperate old lie about the "apology tour." This may wind up his self-deluded base, as a lot of these comments show, but not many thinking moderates will see this as a demonstration of political prudence. It's like he wants to lose.

    September 12, 2012 07:26 pm at 7:26 pm |
  21. Grampa

    Romney blundered epically when he put spin and attacking Obama above ascertaining what was actually true. He's degenerating into Sarah Palin.

    September 12, 2012 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  22. Mike9999

    Watching Gov. Romney giving his short speech this morning, I had a terrible thought. What if he won the presidency and had to deal with a crisis. Does Bush times 2 scare anybody? It should. The man looked like he'd do or say anything to get elected. It was sad!

    September 12, 2012 07:27 pm at 7:27 pm |
  23. John

    Tilly Milly you are twisting the "facts" as much as Romney. Saying that the US condemns people who make a mockery of others religious beliefs is not the same as apologizing to the terrorists by any stretch of the imagination. It does sound like the POTUS trying to defuse a violent situation that other Americans may still be at risk in and you and Romney don't know anything about. . Romney can say whatever he wants to because he's not POTUS. But he should shut up about this.

    September 12, 2012 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  24. Elvisisback

    The question that should first be asked is why did the Obama administration back the Arab Spring.

    Anyone with a brain new that both Egypt and Libya were headed toward radicalism with the Arab Spring. We should have kept our nose out of both countries or at least covertly supported both regimes to resist the uprising.

    But noooooo, Mr. No Experience for the Job had to stick his nose where he shouldn't have and he offered support for the uprisings. Let's face it, both regimes were dictatorships, but it's better to deal with the devil you know than the one you don't.

    Iran was behind both uprisings and democratic reform was the furtherest thing from the minds of those instigating the uprising. Even though there is a Shia – Sunni conflict between Iran and Egypt, Iran new that Mubarak had to go for Iran to eventually exert growing influence in the region.

    The sad part is that some foreign policy experts predicted all of this would happen when Od u m bo began to get involved, but this neophyte of a president wouldn't listen.

    September 12, 2012 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  25. mane

    Isn't this the reason President Obama was urging the teathug pastor in Florida not to burn the koran the last time around? The people who will suffer these senseless actions of koran burning are active duty service men and women serving overseas; not the blog warriors sitting in the comfort of their homes who see war in every diplomatic row

    September 12, 2012 07:29 pm at 7:29 pm |
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