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. Perryboy

    Romney...Please Please Go Away.

    September 12, 2012 08:22 pm at 8:22 pm |
  2. kalimjohnson

    What's funny to me is that the embassy clearly apologized prior to the violence escalating to try to stop it from escalating and I don't see anything wrong with that. Some of you are so dam tough but put yourself in their shoes and I bet you will try to find reason as well especially when this is all over some idiot pastor who is trying to make a buck. You hate the POTUS so much that you can read a sign that says free cheese and still go in and ask how much?

    September 12, 2012 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  3. td40

    I read the statement. That's an "apology"? Nope.

    Just another ill-fated, misguided, and lame attempt by Romney's camp to blow something up into something it's clearly not in order to score political points. Disgusting. And btw, isn't interesting how, when Bush was president and we were actually waging war in the middle east, it seemed like it was a rare occasion that we'd here about an Al-Qaeda or Taliban being killed. Under Obama, it seems like hardly a month goes by without some terrorist leader being killed or thwarted. So no, Obama's not apologizing to them- he's flat out killingthem. And boooyyyy, does that make Romney and the rest of the GOP mad! And now here they are, laughably grasping at straws to try to downplay it and turn it into an apology. Pathetic.

    September 12, 2012 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  4. judy

    someone should shut that unpatriotic stuip romney up. Making sttementts without facts is both lying and could do swerious harm to this countey. Romney and all his idiot republicans should all be condemed for their careless and stupid remarks. I don't want this nut job running this country. He screwed up on comments made abour israel too. Forward.

    September 12, 2012 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  5. mike daniels

    Mr Romney would have us in yet another War

    September 12, 2012 08:26 pm at 8:26 pm |
  6. independent

    Unseemly and disgusting. Romney is not Presidential, not reasoned, politicizing a national tragedy.

    September 12, 2012 08:27 pm at 8:27 pm |
  7. LS

    Mitt Romney – RobMe ....YOU NEED TO SHUT THE f _ _ _ UP. ROMNEY YOU OPEN YOUR MOUTH AT THE WRONG TIME WHEN YOU NEED TO JUST STAY OUT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND JUST BE A RICH, SNOBY, OUT OF TOUCH PEOPLE PERSON GOVERNOR. Leave it up to you United States will be in a World War III, that is your way in putting people back to work and meeting your 12 Million people Employed, because everybody will be working at the Shipyards and Boeing, and Hughes, building ships and planes and Military gear because you got us in another WAR

    September 12, 2012 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  8. munch

    news flash romney has now blamed the bush years on obama

    September 12, 2012 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  9. Bob

    FYI to news media, the statement was posted AFTER THE CROWDS STARTED PROTESTING. Uh, yes, it was the FIRST RESPONSE. Wow. Was it the first response to the actual murder? No. But, it was the first response to the protests that were already growing violent.

    September 12, 2012 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  10. Independent in NC

    Romney's shameless politicizing of the attacks in Libya show not only a complete lack of compassion for the slain Foreign Service workers and their families, but a fundamental failure to understand the dangers these men and women face every day.
    These are men and women who have to go to extraordinary lengths to maintain diplomatic relations designed to not only foster good will with the United States but also prevent violence against this country and themselves. On a daily basis they face dangers of a magnitude that most people in this country cannot begin to understand.
    If issuing press releases or statements that are not necessarily in-line with official government policy helps ease the dangers they face, then I say more power to them. As Romney and the other republican pundits like to point out, we do have something called Freedom of Speech in this country.
    Romney is truly a man who will say a do anything to distort the truth in order to gain a few political points in his personal quest for the presidency.

    September 12, 2012 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  11. AK_steve

    Let see, he insulted our allies when visiting the olympics, said racist comments about non-Israeli cultures, makes false statements about Libya and Egypt...

    This guy will get us in a war in his first month in office with his reckless un-researched opinions. Who is he to criticize anyone on foreign policy. What a "tool".

    September 12, 2012 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  12. Kathy

    Romney is an embarrassment that never ends.

    September 12, 2012 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  13. rastafanman

    What if someone released a video inciting hatred against Mormons, would Romney still stand by his right to free speech comment. Just wondering.

    September 12, 2012 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  14. Brian

    As comments have already pointed out, the embassy stood by their statement after the attacks, so your timeline is moot. Try a different spin CNN.

    September 12, 2012 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  15. sqeptiq

    Romney's statement is one of the most dishonest, reprehensible and immoral statements ever made by a candidate for a major political office in American history.

    September 12, 2012 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  16. Brian

    The embassy stood by their statement AFTER the event. Romney has a point.

    September 12, 2012 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  17. dave

    mittens needs to have a team of people on the ready at all times to get his foot out of his mouth! don't worry though his flip remakes about the embassy attacks they will be flopped by sun rise thursday. just think their are some repubs that what this man to carry the football along with the lanch codes around with him! scary!!!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2012 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  18. rastafanman

    so BarryinLasVegas, every other media outlet in the world was lying according to you, because BBC, CBC, CBS, ABC, NBC,and Reuters all reported things far differently then what you seem to have heard, let me guess you were watching Faux News.

    September 12, 2012 08:35 pm at 8:35 pm |
  19. Jay Dee

    The thing the republican party has right is that we do have the right to speak freely in the USA. No one can take that away. Even the republican party has that right. That also gives the republican party the right to say they are right, even when they know they are wrong, which is a normal activity for them. When the republican party tells a lie, they are protected by free speech and can also claim their lie is the truth. It's a right that our service men and women protect in each war the republican party sends them to.

    September 12, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  20. Pax

    Imagine you are in the Embassy and you are surrounded by a large screaming mob making threats. It is your job to protect the lives of the Embassy staff. One of your countrymen, an idiotic fundamentalist crank has put out a video designed to incite violence. You make a statement that both defends the right of free speech but also condemns the irresponsibility of those that would incite violence as a means in itself.

    I'd say the embassy made the right call. Incredibly, some Monday morning quarterbacks here think they would have issued a (suicidal) statement to the angry mob saying "we stand behind any American expression of free speech, no matter how demented, factually incorrect, insulting, insensitive, idiotic or malevolent – especially when aimed at Islam.".

    September 12, 2012 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  21. Jacques

    This is crazy. Romney avoided military service 4 times. A few years back when asked why none of his sons was serving in the military, he said that they were serving their country by campaigning for him. Also, Romney chooses hide his money overseas, and yet he wants us to believe that he loves this country more than our President. Really?

    September 12, 2012 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
  22. njbchicago

    Libya is this President's Iraq. For whatever reason he decided we needed to insert ourselves into their situation. He decided that America needed to give these people money to boot! Ok, now for Romney. The press is SCREAMING at his comments, which were absolutely correct. We listened to the press and the left for 8 years bash Bush – the man couldn't even sneeze without getting bashed. And Romney comes out and makes a statement and they are CRYING about it? Really?????????? Give up, press. Give up, the left. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. President Obama was WRONG to get involved there. Period. He spent money we didn't have to do so. A little hypocritical? I'd say so. We need peace through strength. It is the only thing these people understand. Period.

    September 12, 2012 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  23. zod

    Wow two articles in a row slamming Romney on the homepage and non doing so to Obama. CNN's gotta get their man re-elected don't they.

    September 12, 2012 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  24. Pat

    I guess all the paid responders are out tonight. As an American, it is truly comical how the major news agencies protect the Obama administration and rip apart his opponent. Censure is coming people and to some extent, NBC and MSNBC have been designated as a state run news agency. I would rather Obama not get another four years but what is extremely funny about his supporters, is that he has done nothing for the poor or middle class. Democrats accross the nation control most local Governments. Look at most major cities, they elect the same party over and over again. People, they demonize their opponents and do everything they can to keep you right where you are. In addition, they want to continue to add to the poor and lower income brackets. The progressive want the destruction of the middle class. This will ensure there power base. They want more kids to goto to college but 50% that graduate can't find a job. They want to give you healthcare, but it's basic stuff people, your nothin going to get that high priced procedure. Imagine 2 million more people costing 50,000 a year, who pay nothing? Well, you can't just get the money from the financially rich. I have to accept your stupidity if you reelect this administration and forward horsecrop. But I will sit back and laugh at most of you. After four more years of him, you will have less, America will be weaker overall, and you will still blame others.

    September 12, 2012 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  25. Pander Bear

    Romney is a disgusting prig as are all the right wing nut job posters on this board.

    September 12, 2012 08:46 pm at 8:46 pm |
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