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. Mary

    Timbits: People like GFF have made up their mind to hate Obama and will say anything in the anonymity of the internet.

    September 12, 2012 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  2. MIJohn

    Yep, par for Romney and the GOP – if you don't like that something doesn't make you look good, pander your fantasies as facts and keep screaming until no one can hear anything but the lies you sell. Just like they call anyone who doesn't 100% support failed far-right economic policies as "commie " or "socialist" when they don't even know what those terms actually mean.

    Then again these are the same people who with one hand rant about "freedom of religion" when it comes to posting the Ten Commandments in public buildings and insisting on churches being tax-exempt while also demanding that Muslims (who have committed fewer acts of terrorism on US soil than extremist Jews and Christians) be segregated into ghettos. Consistency has never been one of their defining characteristics unless you're talking about consistently being idiots. Frankly I bet if a Muslim made a film that was critical of Jesus Christ in the same manner as this film these posters would be screaming "boycott" and sending all sorts of death-threats to the director. Come to think of it, didn't that happen years ago? I seem to remember many "good peaceful Christians" calling for the movie to be banned because it offended them and the producer having to go into hiding due to death threats.

    Of course a Muslim won't do because they regard Jesus as one of the great prophets alongside Moses and Mohammed. Funny and sad at the same time – Islam goes so far as to make the destruction of a Bible or Torah the same as burning a Qur'an but neither of the other two can return the favors.

    September 12, 2012 08:47 pm at 8:47 pm |
  3. Walter

    You look at the front page of and it absolutely explains why their television ratings are in the toilet and flushing fast. All Pro-Obama All The Time!! Pathetic.

    September 12, 2012 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
  4. Patrick

    Anyone else think the irony of using the word "disgraceful" is lost on Romney?

    September 12, 2012 08:50 pm at 8:50 pm |
  5. Waleed75

    Let me try and throw logic out for a minute and pretend that the statement made by the embassy (who was surrounded by the way by insulted Muslims) was a wrong thing to do. Even if that statement was a mistake, how is this an indication of Obama apologizing? How would you react if you were surrounded by a crowd of angry Christians who were mad about an offensive image of Jesus in a country of Christians? You would possibly say that those images are not a good thing to do. Even still, it is not the fault of the president that these statements were made, nor a reflection of how the president felt after the situation turned violent. This constant trend of Republicans trying to paint the president as the "other" or someone who sides with terrorist is contrary to how we have normally treated presidents in the past and a direct lie considering this president has killed the top terrorist that was responsible for 9/11.

    September 12, 2012 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  6. Ray

    Romney and the rest of you traitors need to take a good look in the mirror. Your gullibility is not only embarrassing but endangering our people overseas. Romney is a hollow psychopath incapable of empathy...the rest of you, I don't know. Whoever is POTUS is MY Commander-in-Chief. Semper Fi.

    September 12, 2012 08:51 pm at 8:51 pm |
  7. Thinker

    What does Romney start another war. He needs to shut up and concentrate on his pathetic campaign, and stay out of foreign affairs. He knows nothing. He can't even mention the troops during his acceptance speech. Shows how much he thinks of the military.

    September 12, 2012 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  8. pthomas

    I find it interesting the number of people who can read facts and specific times and quotes yet allow their hatred to cloud their brain function. A Presidental candidate has no business making these kinds of outrageous comments when Americans are being attacked and murdered. There is a valid foreign policy argument to be made but now is the not time. And just because facts do not fit the narrative people want to believe does not change the reality.

    September 12, 2012 08:53 pm at 8:53 pm |
  9. David

    I interesting how Romney is saying the content of that movie is "Our Values". Wow talk about out of touch.

    September 12, 2012 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  10. Mark

    Romney is absolutely right.

    September 12, 2012 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  11. rep

    so basically Romney jumped into the middle of a situation he knew nothing about, accused the US embassy in Cairo for apologizing for the attack–even though they didn't apologize for anything because the embassy hadn't even been attacked yet but rather was just "brewing" and needed to be diffused. Then he accused Obama of being weak because of the embassy's statement. Now, Mitt has to backpedal it all since after the attacks the main focus was/is be about sympathy for the victims and finding the perpetrators and NOT playing politics.

    Oh yeah...sounds like Romney to me. The man is not ready to lead.

    September 12, 2012 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  12. Shellie

    No matter what you may think of our current president, Romney CLEARLY was opportunistic and used this tragedy for his own political goals. All he cares about is winning the presidency at any cost, even is own common sense. He was so giddy about condemning Obama he didn't even realize that he had his facts clearly wrong. On top of that, how tacky was his move to issue that statement before the deaths were even verified to the family. Romney is just slimy. I miss John McCain. He has love and respect for our country, intelligence, military experience, and knowledge of intricate foreign issues. Romney loves himself. He is far from patriotic. I'd rather have Obama.

    September 12, 2012 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  13. CedarRapids

    "Did the US Embassy in Egypt (and by extension the Obama administration) apologize for hurt feelings of Muslims? YES"

    er, no, they didnt, they condemned a film. There is a difference between condemnation and apologizing.

    "Was the Obama administration's "first response" on Tuesday one of sympathy for those who started the violence itself – before and after the attacks? YES (see next question)"

    No, because, as has been shown, the comment came before any violence, that much is a known fact if nothing else is, so to claim the statement was for those that committed the violence is false.

    "Was the original statement viewed as our embassy/administration standing "in apology" or was it a condemnation of the movie's message? BOTH
    Condemnation: "The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims."
    Apology: "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

    Rejecting the actions of someone is not an apology. If you believe it is then you will have a very difficult life, full of misunderstandings.

    "Does the timeline of the events suggest 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? NOPE"

    Yes, because, as mentioned above, the statement came before any violence. That is a known fact and cannot be avoided no matter how often romney, and yourself, want history to change.

    "Does America stand for freedom of speech? YES "

    Hey, we agree on one.

    September 12, 2012 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  14. AmericanPie

    The world needs prayer at his time.

    September 12, 2012 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  15. Elton

    Is life for the everyday Libyan better today compared to before the US backed rebel overthrow of Ghaddafi?
    Is US security improved?
    Is US standing in the Middle East improved?
    Who provided the arms used to attack the consulate and kill our ambassador?
    Under whose banner did the attackers fight during the civil war?
    Nor the third, fourth, fifth, etc....
    When will TPTB learn?! MSM, STOP CARRYING WATER FOR THESE IDIOTS! Stop wasting my tax dollars on these useless adventures!

    September 12, 2012 08:58 pm at 8:58 pm |
  16. Daniel

    I thought Mitts knowledge of foreign policy only extended to Switzerland and the Cayman Islands. Guess he could not resist another chance to demonize the president with his negative campaign. He has a real inability to say anything positive about anything.

    September 12, 2012 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  17. CountryFirst

    As a GOP leaning man, I am appalled at Mitt Romney trying to capitalize on the murders of Americans on foreign soil. The note from the our embassy in Egypt was more than likely issued because the embassy feared an assault on the premises, and NOT out of weakness as Mitt Romney put it.

    Contrary to Romney's claims Obama DID NOT apologize nor say he supported the terrorists in Egypt or Libya,

    This clearly shows Romney has no qualms in trying to take advantage when America is down.

    I for one will rather sit out the election, then lend my support for Mitt Romney who really wants to become President for himself, and doesn't give a damn about the country.

    Put the Country First, Romney!

    September 12, 2012 08:59 pm at 8:59 pm |
  18. Matthew

    CNN as usual is trying to prop the impotent Obama admnistration. There is nobody else to blame but Obama and the liberal media such as CNN as they fail to call the evils of the Muslim fanatics as they don't want to "upset" all muslims. People, you call evil, evil, black, black - it is idiotic to always be politically correct so as not to upset people. If a muslim kills a christian due to their muslim belief, then by all means call that belief, islamic as it may be evil!

    September 12, 2012 09:01 pm at 9:01 pm |
  19. Lionel

    At a time of crisis, Robme is using this for political gain. Get the facts before you shoot off your big mouth.

    Robme will say and do anything to get this presidency. Whenever he opens his mouth, it gets very confusing.

    I can't believe people still wants to vote for this moron, oh, I mean Mormon.

    September 12, 2012 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  20. Anonymous

    By saying in their talking points that Romney rejects the message of the movie, aren't they effectively "apologizing" for the film in exactly the same way the administration "apologized?"

    Romney talking points: "reject"
    Egyptial embassy statement: "condemn"

    If some film makes ridiculous assertions that inflame an entire religion and an entire region, how would our condemnation of those ridiculous assertions say anything about the film makers right to free speech?

    September 12, 2012 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  21. Unfit Mitt

    Mighty mighty Mittens proved himslef clueless, heartless, and a liar all in one fell swoop today. He usuallly only hits two of his three fortes in any given statement, but today he outdid himself. And he can add shamless and disgraceful to his repetoire now too.

    September 12, 2012 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  22. Liz the First

    I guess the mormons only have 9 Commandments, they mustn't use that pesky old 'thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.' but come to think of it, not many on the 'right' seem to remember that one exists. pity that God's Own Party tries to get power by lying, hating, and generally appealing to the basest of human nature, hate, fear, and greed. and then on top of it, they call their hate 'values.' pathetic. way past time to relegate the dinosaur party to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

    September 12, 2012 09:03 pm at 9:03 pm |
  23. Mark

    Let's make Romney the envoy in Libra. Let him see first hand what is happening. Ship him over there so he gets some knowledge in the field. He has never fought a war, even discuss war until recently. Yet he is now the expert of the foreign policy, or is he really just using the old Bush administration to attack Obama. The latter is the truth.

    September 12, 2012 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  24. Unfit Mitt

    What a shamless poser. A disgrace. Even republicons have to be gagging back their vomit and bile when looking at their mighty mighty mitt and waht a horses backside he really is.

    September 12, 2012 09:04 pm at 9:04 pm |
  25. RJ

    This is not a time for a campaign platform! People have been killed! Critize those who have attacked the US Embassy-The person who broadcast the movie that started the disruption is in hiding. This is one time we as Americans need to stand together!

    September 12, 2012 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
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