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. FlotsamJetsam

    Romney has politicized a real tragedy.
    I am all for freedom of speech too, but to incite other people to violence against US operations in Afghanistan, Egypt and other places is irresponsible and just plain wrong.

    To interpret the statement the US Embassy in Cairo as an "apology" is lunacy, The embassy was simply trying to distance themselves from these people. It was not an apology at all. The response by Romney shows how ill prepared he is to address foreign service. To say this is part of American values means little to those people in other parts of the world who cannot make the distinction that this is freedom of speech that the US supports not the statements of those who would incite violence. For him to politicize this is just wrong and a sign that his campaign has become desperate..

    September 12, 2012 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  2. Amayalive

    Please? This is news? Romney's message was that of disbelief and outrage that the POTUS's lack of action created. First, the Embassy in a desperate attempt puts out their statement and then the POTUS throws them under the bus instead of making HIS OWN statement to reassure the American people it is sent out by his Admin. Hilary Clinton saves the day with an explanation. I'm voting for Romney who had the guts to say what we were all thinking as events unfolded and the President was SILENT.

    September 12, 2012 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  3. David

    How many wars does the GOP want us to fight?

    September 12, 2012 09:32 pm at 9:32 pm |
  4. AL

    Romney was wrong. He jumped the gun with his illogical statement. You need the facts before you can comment. You need to think before you speak. His arrogance will put American lives at risk. The video was stupid in the first place. Now our citizens should not have been killed, but the President is taking immediate action. He has been very meticoulous about his approach to foreign policy. He has not caused 4-5000 service member deaths with over 30/40000 or more injuries. He has given orders to kill very key terrorist leaders. No massive attacks have happened on his watch. Obama takes time to think and then act. Romney has proved he will act impulsively and with reckless arrogance. NO TO MITT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    September 12, 2012 09:33 pm at 9:33 pm |
  5. kcv

    Gosh Romney is an idiot...he seems desperate and makes Dubya look like a genius. I love that he keeps talking and talking!

    September 12, 2012 09:34 pm at 9:34 pm |
  6. David

    So let me get this straight ... the "timeline" defense for Obama goes something like this:

    Romney was wrong to accuse the administration of sympathizing with and apologizing to the extremists and throwing free speech under the bus after our embassy was stormed!! They sympathized and apologized and threw free speech under the bus BEFORE the embassy was stormed!

    Uh, really??

    September 12, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  7. utvols

    The lack of timely response by the president was all too obvious. The fact is he supported this group when they overtook Egypt and Libya. He continues to support them instead of the United States. They were probably high fiving each other in the white house. And then this contrived story from the media to deflect what the real response is supposed to be. I think the white house reporting staff needs to visit Egypt or Libya for a while and then come back to report. I bet they would see things differently and start reporting the truth.

    September 12, 2012 09:38 pm at 9:38 pm |
  8. Thinking Texan

    @WV Old Timer you got to be kidding. "How can the republicans who have experience and knowledge"

    experienced criminals? despots? incompetents? nut cases?
    NIXON, McCarthy, the list is so, so long. What is the former FEMA director Brownie doing these days?

    Knowledgeable? About what? WMD? the financial collapse?
    Power does not equate to knowledge, but even the powerful say they are out of touch.
    Why does the second richest guy in the US say the rich should pay more taxes?
    Do they have somekind of knowledge Buffet does not have?

    They are losers dragging down the country.

    September 12, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  9. peacemonger

    Romney's comments are ill-informed, opportunistic, shallow and political in a most inappropriate way, especially considering a a highly respected US ambassador has been murdered. Once again, he's saying anything to get elected. Romney as president would be a disaster for US foreign policy.

    September 12, 2012 09:39 pm at 9:39 pm |
  10. RudyG

    What is absolutely incredible is that our ambassador was being protected by Libyan guards. Why? What's the answer to that?? Especially given the fact that the country was in chaos just a few months ago, and the government, or whatever there is of one, is brand new.

    September 12, 2012 09:40 pm at 9:40 pm |
  11. Anonymous

    He is clearly using disgusting attacks to terrorize people and compel voters to vote a specific way. That is the most disgustingly dishonest and offensive dirty trick I've ever seen any political party use to try to get elected. I would 100 times over, rather see Romney bug the Democratic Nation Headquarters than for him to use the death of Americans serving our country to better his campaign!! I'm so ashamed that Romney and anyone justifying these tactics in the Republican party can even call themselves human... let alone Americans.

    September 12, 2012 09:44 pm at 9:44 pm |
  12. Zoby

    Now its pretty obvious what Romney is-A Cranky War Machine, this world has had its fair share of wars sanctioned by shallow-minded republicans who probably have gun factories and stand back to gain while the rest of the American people watch as their young men and women die and their economy crash...go do what u are good at Mitt, leave politics for the guy that's got something to offer.

    September 12, 2012 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  13. BE AFRAID.

    Romney should have gotten the facts, before commenting on them. He knows nothing of deplomacy, or world affairs. He scare the hell out of me!

    September 12, 2012 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  14. Bob the Builder

    I have a perfect solution to all of this: put all FANATICS of all religions on the manned mission to Mars, which is where they belong. They can correspond with their god(s) up there as the chosen peoples, slaughter each other, make stupid movies, burn holy books and crosses, teach creationism, behead people, stone women, have a million wives, get angry and attack the people that liberated them, pray in school, hold Republican conventions and Tea Party tea parties, pile up automatic weapons, call any critic of Israel anti-Semitic, occupy their neighbors and build illegal housing, fire rockets on whoever, fly Confederate flags and Nazi emblems, and generally speak stupid nonsense.

    Let the rest of us focus on universal issues that bind humanity together on our planet, instead of push us apart. OR they can all shut up and practice love, kindness, and peace. I think most of us would prefer the latter. Since that won't ever happen, the Mars option is more realistic. NASA, are you listening?

    September 12, 2012 09:50 pm at 9:50 pm |
  15. r hurley

    The words of our Glorious Leader. "I will stand with the Muslims should the political winds shift in an ugly direction." This is from page 261 of the "Audacity of Hope." This is our leader speaking.

    September 12, 2012 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  16. Praying_Mantis

    Has it occurred to anyone here that the embassy staff or someone in the diplomatic corps simply posted that statement in order to attempt to defuse what appeared (rightfully so) a dangerous escalating situation?

    September 12, 2012 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  17. leilani kim

    The issues should be about our American embassies being attacked and Americans being killed...not whether Romney should have said what he said and when he said it. It is clear to everyone that the press is shielding Obama. What part of Obama's speech needed more facts? His speech was lacking passion...he has more passion on his speeches when he attacks the Republicans. After his speech, he goes to a fundraiser......what!!!!!!!!... This is not over, more American lives could be lost. This President must not be re-elected. Period.

    September 12, 2012 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  18. kenhbradshaw

    My sense from everything I have read is that the Obama administrations was appeasing an extremist movement at the expense of the United States. It backfired and caused some killings. Now, Romney is at fault for recognizing it. And the administration is denying their intent.

    September 12, 2012 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  19. JW

    Typical Republican fashion, if you tell a lie and you tell it enough the flock believes it to be true.

    What is disgraceful is the lack of even acknowledging our service men and women in his fantasy filled convention speech!

    Apparently millions of dollars buy's a speech writer who can develop fantasy but can't comment on reality!

    September 12, 2012 09:54 pm at 9:54 pm |
  20. dontbow

    obamas administration is a pretzel, they dont know how ot handle the issue of muslim extremist violence except make a fake osama bin laden kill story to try to make obamya look like a hero of the fatherland.

    September 12, 2012 09:56 pm at 9:56 pm |
  21. Really?

    You can tell which comments come from people who believe everything they see on MSM rather than getting facts – I mean real facts that are not twisted into lies – about Romney. The man is literally a saint compared to Obama.

    September 12, 2012 09:58 pm at 9:58 pm |
  22. JW

    It's funny all the Republican garbage here about our President Mr. Obama. On President Obama's watch he has taken it to Osama Bin Laden and has commanded the armed forces to strike more than Mr. Bush ever had done.

    The difference is he's smart enough not to enrage the rest of the world against the United States as the Republican Right (wrong) would like.

    Diplomacy and brains are clearly lacking for Mr. Romney and crew.

    Keep running your mouth Mr. Romney to ensure your own defeat in November.

    September 12, 2012 09:59 pm at 9:59 pm |
  23. Really?

    @IndependentMom – in This country we have freedom of speech and thought and the right to publish anything we want. I am offended by what your comment states; aren't you glad I can't have you thrown into jail or worse – like what was done to our Ambassador?

    September 12, 2012 10:03 pm at 10:03 pm |
  24. ManTex

    MR will say or do anything he thinks will put a buck in his pocket or gain him a vote. Typical disingenuous GOP / GOTP

    September 12, 2012 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |

    Romney is such a stupid, scarry man! God help us if this MORON wins!!!! Shoot first and ask questions later. Obama 2012!!!

    September 12, 2012 10:04 pm at 10:04 pm |
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