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. David

    Good Lord, I can't imagine the calamity if this one has to take a 3am phone call. Thank God we have a president that can navigate us through these sticky foreign affairs.

    September 12, 2012 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  2. fact

    Obama thanks for bringing these terrorists to power

    September 12, 2012 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  3. Kahless

    Romney is a loose cannon and I would hope that one of his breathern in the GOP would remind him that when things like this happen, we stand united in our response behind our President. The bickering stops at the border. Someone like John McCain might pull him aside and remind him of that.

    September 12, 2012 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  4. Jack V

    How about putting Romney in a time machine & make him go fight in Viet Nam? Then maybe he could have an excuse for the tough posturing.

    September 12, 2012 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  5. slickone

    The idiots of the right wing Repubs will believe anything to further their cause which is to over throw the United States Government and re invent Hitleresque socialism as our form of Government. The wingnuts are desperate.

    September 12, 2012 11:37 pm at 11:37 pm |
  6. Color me Liberal

    Reall the republican party sickens me. I just do not know what to say. We got to vote them all out. This was not a political event. This was a tragedy that you would think politics would not exist. But you damn republicans. To hell with yall, We got to vote them all out.

    September 12, 2012 11:39 pm at 11:39 pm |
  7. degazmatic

    people died.... instead of condemning the act and sympathizing with the grieving families he took shot at the prez... injected politics... something that not even bush did when the pictures caused the protests around the world. bush condemned the artist... on 9/11 after the terror attacks everybody got together... Willard is making the people more divided...

    September 12, 2012 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  8. Hoosier2012

    Mittens, you are new to the foreign policy, aren't you?
    You are not qualify to be POTUS.

    September 12, 2012 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  9. Jack

    Mitt Romney attempted to hijack the deaths of brave service people for his own political gain – as he has no ideas or platform of his own to run on, this he saw as a way to advance his own's a terrible day, first and foremost our hearts and minds are those with the families who lost Chris and loved ones...then we turn our disdain to the political machine monster Romney who cares only about political gain while the nation mourns.

    September 12, 2012 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  10. B100Z

    Romney is a goofball just like Dubya was. He strapped his dog to the roof of his car!!
    Truthfully, that's about all I need to know.

    September 12, 2012 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  11. bcm

    The embassy issued the statement in an attempt to diffuse the situation before it got violent. The statement did not come from the White House nor was it approved by the White House. Mitt Romney had just the kind of knee jerk reaction that gets people killed. A president must wait for actual facts before making such statements. He's an idiot who would cause the U.S. to lose all respect we may have regained in the world since the last idiot republican president. How can anyone trust this man or think he's even remotely presidential????? Baffling!

    September 12, 2012 11:51 pm at 11:51 pm |
  12. Mike

    Just another romney gaffe

    September 12, 2012 11:52 pm at 11:52 pm |
  13. Steve

    Reading many of comments and listening to what Romney said, it is becoming apparent that many on the right no longer understand the English language.

    September 12, 2012 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  14. Ralph N

    How interesting for Democrats. Obama disavow's the Cairo embassy statement and when Romney rightly brings it up he gets slammed by Democrats. I guess if you're a Democrat the issue isn't whether you're right or wrong...

    September 12, 2012 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |

    NEVER SAW A PRESIDENT THAT HAS TO BE BABIED and protected. Ahead of time it was known that rioters were headed to one of the embassy.Do you now that Kennedy, Reagan, both Bushes, Ford, Johnson or Clinton would have done? Picked up the phone and made some calls and said to the leader of either country, you better protect our embassy.
    And Obama gives giving billions to these countries. And Obama apologizes to Muslims because some American person wrote something that radical Muslims did not like.
    Why in the hell do we care so much about what the radicals think.
    We have millions in this Obama economy and we give billions of dollars to kill our ambassador and others and destroy our property.
    I would love to have just a small amount of this money to pay off my house as I am now lower income.

    September 12, 2012 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  16. Brian

    I have noticed that Romney has a Nixonian way of thinking. Oh, pardon me.

    September 12, 2012 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  17. Neverson

    Romney is more into winning the elections than anything else,he say things even before he could know the facts because he thinks thats being responsible. Please Mr Romney think before u act.

    September 12, 2012 11:59 pm at 11:59 pm |
  18. Mike

    I simply cannot see how the statement is tantamount to an apology. I see it as a very diplomatic attempt to quell mounting tension. The embassy was simply stating that it is not the policy of the US government to hurt the feelings of any group of people. What was the alternative? "Hey Egyptians, you can all get stuffed because we have the right to freedom of expression in the US! We don't care about you or your religion so stick that in your pipe and smoke it!"

    September 13, 2012 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  19. FmoreYrs

    4 more years for Obama

    September 13, 2012 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  20. Mary

    TheFoolKnownAsMittRomney – Hilarious. Romney is trying to twist whatever he can so that he can get a bump which is not coming.

    September 13, 2012 12:06 am at 12:06 am |
  21. Anonymous

    I haven't decided who is worse, Mitt Romney or his faithful supporters repeating Romney's anti-Obama apology talking points that have been debunked over and over again. It's time for Republican leadership to put an end to this before more American lives are lost. America doesn't need Sarah Palin giving National Defense advice to Mitt Romney. Laura Ingram did enough damage on her own getting Romney to put on his big boy pants and come out swinging. A vote for Mitt is a vote for Limbaugh. Or maybe Glen Beck. Or Bill O'Reilly. With Romney, who knows who advises him anymore. Let's just say it's a sad day when the right wing nuts cheer on the deaths of innocent Americans soley to score political points in an election year.

    September 13, 2012 12:09 am at 12:09 am |
  22. NameDrac

    After reading some of these hateful comments towards President Obama, I realize that even after killing Bin Laden, approving drone attacks against Al Queda or anything else to defense our great nation, he will always be unappreciated. So much HATE by SOME who can't accept a black family in the white house.

    September 13, 2012 12:10 am at 12:10 am |
  23. packerfans

    Trust Obama???? He went golf years and do nothing with Libya War since and watch do nothing with them.. Why you voter for Obama can trust with world???? Right now He send USA War ship??? What kind delay his mind??? He send because he wanted back his Voter?"?? He is not fit second term and should quit job!!! He failed Iran , egpty, and libya?? He better off white house peroid. Vote other Predident!!

    September 13, 2012 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  24. dina

    It is amazing that so many uninformed and uneducated people think they need to know everything the government is dong to find terrorists. We know too much already. Information given out by news media for entertainment is far too much for the average citizen to know.Obama is a good president who is doing the right thing in a very difficult world today. It is easy for Romney to think he could do better. He is so far away from having the qualities to be president as possible.I hope the people beging to see that.

    September 13, 2012 12:16 am at 12:16 am |
  25. Bob Pierce

    So the officials in the embassy take action to calm violence using language that has been used before to calm locals and discourage violence..... and Obama is blamed for their reasonable actions? What the hell do you expect those folks in the Egyptian equivalent of the Alamo to do.... say f-you, America's Great and We Stand For Free Speech that denigrates your religion? Then you would have seen a real Iran Embassy style riot. Please Explain.

    September 13, 2012 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
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