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. eadthem

    "We are sorry that we offended you." or "We do not apologies for our rights.". Which one is designed to diffuse a situation and save lives? witch one is designed to make a bad situation worse?

    September 13, 2012 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  2. Emilio Dumphque

    It's beginning to look like Romney had advance knowledge of what was happening in North Africa. He could certainly afford to start something.

    September 13, 2012 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  3. AFColonelRet

    Romney is absolutely unprepared and ignorant about foreign policy and relations. Making comments without complete information, trying to incite at a time when the people in harm's way are trying to calm the situation, and then the classless and airrogant defense of his mistake. Playing politics in the middle of a very fluid crisis is not only dumb, it endangers lives. If he is truly upset and believes the response was wrong, he could have waited until the situation was resolved and said what he wants. He uas not learned that leaders cannot spout off without knowing what is happening or weighing the consequences. This man does not belong in the White House, he belongs in the Out House.

    September 13, 2012 12:25 am at 12:25 am |
  4. Duke

    Absolutely everything Romney said is FACTUAL and correct. Our current Apology in Chief is way over his head in Foreign policy. Romney is very presidential and is a smart man.

    September 13, 2012 12:31 am at 12:31 am |
  5. Anonymous

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

    Uh...No. The State Department has already gone on record as saying that the Embassy in Egypt issued that statement without any sort of input or authorization from Washington. Thus, your "by extension" claim is as dubious as Romney's is. Furthermore, anyone with half a brain who heard the President's actual statement knows that there was no "apology" of any sort issued. Zip. Nada.

    September 13, 2012 12:35 am at 12:35 am |
  6. CryBabies

    C'mon CNN .... too afraid to grow a pair and print the truth about radical muslims? Obviously our "politically correct" President is. Vote for this drone and your all idiots!

    September 13, 2012 12:38 am at 12:38 am |
  7. stranger in an increasingly strange land

    Romney is apparently learning "How to tell the truth" fron Ryan. Mitt wouyld not understand a timeline if it hit him in the head. If you do not believe that, check how long he was listed as the Mighty Pooh-Bah over Bain after he claims he wasn't there at all. By the way, cancel the hitting him in the head remark: his head is obviously not a vital organ.

    On to the statement condemming the film that upset the Muslims. If he was not so slow on the uptake in International Affairs, he would have issued a statement condemming the anti-Muslim film in order to pretend Republicans are inclusive. As it is, by the time he and his fellow multi-millionaires figured out this might just offend a voting block, the attack on the Embassy was under way

    September 13, 2012 12:39 am at 12:39 am |
  8. Name nikki

    This is CHESS not CHECKERS..


    September 13, 2012 12:41 am at 12:41 am |
  9. picklepants

    In 2004, John Kerry routinely attacked President Bush's handling of Iraq when things weren't going well in the country. And the media dutifully reported on Bush's foreign policy blunders in Iraq. But now, instead of scrutinizing Obama's handling of a foreign policy crisis, the media has decided that the real story in Egypt and Libya is a Mitt Romney media generated faux gaffe. The media want's to attack Romney, not the muslim extremist who commited this horrible act. Shame on you main stream media. You are not jounalists, you are a political operatives.

    September 13, 2012 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  10. Glenn Rice

    Anyone who thinks Romney is speaking the truth is an idiot.

    September 13, 2012 12:42 am at 12:42 am |
  11. stranger in an increasingly strange land

    Republican logic is like circular logic. If you make two or more statements that are unrelated, you can then infer a third statement that has noe basis in facts but appears to make sense on the first read.

    1. "God is love"
    2. "Love is blind"
    3> "God is Ray Charles"

    September 13, 2012 12:47 am at 12:47 am |
  12. Mason

    Obama didnt say anything. The Embasy in Cairo released the statement BEFORE anyone got killed. They were trying to prevent violence by saying, "Religious tolerance is an American value."

    September 13, 2012 12:50 am at 12:50 am |
  13. steve

    I'd like to get the list of names of those who funded this five million dollar film. I'm willing to bet ten thousand dollars that there is a very interesting story behind it.

    September 13, 2012 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  14. Politik

    Is it possible to abuse the right of free speech? Yes. Very simple question. That's what the preacher did. The administration called him out on it because he put American lives at risk! Does the president really agree with the killing of any Americans? That's a ridiculous thought and saying he apologizes for an attack on a US Embassy is just plain ignorant. Obama is a Patriot....yeah I said it! Now lets get behind our president...Americans were killed! Lets get behind our president!

    September 13, 2012 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  15. George

    I refuse to believe a politician would ever blur "facts" to further their agenda.

    September 13, 2012 12:52 am at 12:52 am |
  16. Repandum

    Romney wreaks of pure evil. how dare him disrespect the office of his ambition with his slanderous and traitorous remarks.

    September 13, 2012 12:53 am at 12:53 am |
  17. joe

    Romney may not have what it takes to be president. He acted like a fool.

    September 13, 2012 12:54 am at 12:54 am |
  18. Bennyz

    We have a tragedy on our hand, our citizens were killed. Here is a so called a presidential candidate decided to take advantage of the tragedy and turned into a political weapon. Mitt, lets mourn for our loss first.

    Give them the due respect!

    September 13, 2012 12:59 am at 12:59 am |
  19. Ryan

    What I'm getting here is that the mainstream media is either intellectually challenged or blatant liars. Perhaps both.

    While it is true that the original message was posted to the embassy's website prior to the breach, they clearly stood by it in their tweet after the breach. And THAT is what Romney was referring to. Now, you can argue whether it was a condemnation or an apology, but I think what the major point here to consider is that when our embassy has been breached, you don't condemn, apologize for, or whatever you want to call it the impetus for such breach. You condemn the breaching. That is all. To condemn the video first, then condemn the breach, then to have the WH come out and disavow the entire embassy statement, clearly shows the mixed messages Romney is referring to. The WH is a mess right now. Nobody is on the same page. And it sure doesn't help that Obama waits until an ambassador in Libya is killed before he says something, then immediately jets off to hang with the cool kids in Vegas fundraising.

    Wake up, America.

    September 13, 2012 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  20. dm nash

    Those may be Romneys' American values as depicted in that film but they are waaaay out of bounds of what is acceptable to defend as freedom of speech. Those are NOT the American values of a mast majority of the country and certainly not mine. Also Romney among all the other things that are soooo wrong about your statement – it may be our embassy but it is NOT "our country" as you stated. Beyond ignorant at every turn -aaaahhh

    September 13, 2012 01:14 am at 1:14 am |
  21. Ramrod

    We should condemn Israel for agitating the Moslems against us.

    September 13, 2012 01:18 am at 1:18 am |
  22. Mike

    Romney is wrong ..the statement was before anythhing even happen... And it wasnt even put out buy the whitehouse..... Fact check romney... This is a hugeeeeeee gaffe by romney

    September 13, 2012 01:23 am at 1:23 am |
  23. Anonymous

    2008 all over again, CNN backing the same horse

    September 13, 2012 01:25 am at 1:25 am |
  24. northsouth

    Romney in the oval office=Bull in the China shop

    September 13, 2012 01:33 am at 1:33 am |
  25. Patriot

    Rejecting is NOT apologizing
    Condemning is NOT apologizing
    Standing against hate is NOT apologizing

    You Connie's need to open an English dictionary and drop that bible!
    Mitt the Twit is NOT the president and he needs to keep his mouth shut before he endangers more American lives over this issue.
    That Corporate idiot also released his statement before he knew all the facts. This just shows how alike him and Bush the Crack addict are soooo alike!

    The Conservative ideology is to place politics over country. It's sickening how you only regard freedom of religion to apply to one diluted belief called Christianity. Freedom of religion applies to all delusions!

    September 13, 2012 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
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