'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, September 12th, 2012
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THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
September 12, 2012
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Ezra. You did an awesome job
hosting, filling in for Ed there. Appreciate it, man.
KLEIN: Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Here`s what`s going on right now. President Obama is scheduled to
speak at a campaign event in Nevada shortly. You can see there he`s being
introduced at that event. We`re not generally in the business of playing
every candidate`s stump speech in its entirety every time there is a
campaign event with a camera present. If we did that, basically here to
November would be a continuous loop of candidates giving the same speech
with tiny variations over and over again, every single day.
But, but at a time of great international sensitivity, like we are in
today, in the wake of the deadly attack on Americans at the U.S. consulate
in Benghazi, Libya, in the last 24 hours, at times like this, frankly all
of any president`s public appearances have a higher than normal potential
to make real news. So we are going to be monitoring the president`s
campaign speech, and if he makes comments about the protests in Libya, we
will bring that to you.
Meanwhile, I have to tell you that the president just sat down with an
interview with Jose Diaz-Balart, the host of "Noticiero Telemundo" on our
sister network Telemundo. Excerpts of this interview are going to air on
Telemundo tomorrow morning on their show, "Un Nuevo Dia," and also on their
nightly news show with Jose Diaz-Balart tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.
But what we`ve got right now is exclusive. With you`re about to see
here has not been seen anywhere until now. This is the president of the
United States, giving his first extended response to questions about
yesterday`s events in Benghazi, Libya and in Cairo, Egypt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSE DIAZ-BALART, TELEMUNDO: Mr. President, for the first time since
1979, a sitting ambassador, Christopher Stevens, plus three other
Americans, were killed in the line of duty. We send more than a billion
dollars a year to Egypt, tens of millions to Libya after its liberation.
Is it time to reconsider foreign aid to countries where many of the people
don`t want us around?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, look, the United
States doesn`t have an option of withdrawing from the world, and we`re the
one indispensable nation. Countries all around the world look to us for
leadership, even countries where sometimes you experience protests.
And so it`s important for us to stay engaged. But, obviously, what
happened last night was heartbreaking. And Libya in particular is a
government that is very friendly towards us. The vast majority of Libyans
welcomed the United States` involvement. They understand that it`s because
of us that they got rid of a dictator who would crush their spirits for 40
Many Libyans came to the defense of our team in Benghazi when they
were attacked. But, you know, what we have to do now is to do a full
investigation, find out the facts, find out who perpetrated these terrible
acts, and bring them to justice.
DIAZ-BALART: What does that mean? Bring them to justice? What are
OBAMA: Well, our hope is to be able to capture them. And -- but
we`re going to have to, obviously, cooperate with the Libyan government.
And, you know, I have confidence that we will stay on this relentlessly,
because Chris Stevens, he`s somebody who actually advised me and Secretary
Clinton during the original Libyan uprising. He was somebody who Libyans
recognized as being on the side of the people.
And we`re going to get help. We`re going to get cooperation on this.
The broader issue of what`s happened in both the Middle East and North
Africa is one where we know that these are new democracies.
I mean, in Egypt, this is the first democracy in maybe 7,000 years, a
true democracy where people had a voice. They don`t have traditions of
civil society and some of the m aspects of our democracy that are so
important. And they`re going to develop those, and during that time, there
are going to be some rocky times. And we have to understand that.
But the message we`ve communicated to the Egyptians, the Libyans and
everybody else is that there are certain values that we insist on, that we
believe in, and certainly the security of our people, and protecting
diplomats in these countries is something that we expect. And so, we`re
going to continue to look at all aspects of how our embassies are running
in those regions.
DIAZ-BALART: Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally
of the United States?
OBAMA: You know, I don`t think that we would consider them an ally,
but we don`t consider them an enemy. They are a new government that is
trying to find its way. They were democratically elected.
I think that we are going to have to see how they respond to this
incident, how they respond to, for example, maintaining the peace treaty
with Israel. So far, at least, what we`ve seen is that in some cases,
they`ve said the right things and taken the right steps. In others, how
they`ve responded to various events may not be aligned with our interests.
And so, I think it`s still a work in progress, but certainly in this
situation, what we`re going to expect is that they are responsive to our
insistence that our embassy is protected, our personnel is protected. And
if they take actions that indicate they`re not taking those
responsibilities, as all other countries do where we have embassies, I
think that`s going to be a real big problem.
DIAZ-BALART: Mr. President, Governor Romney today said your foreign
policy lacks clarity. Representative Ryan implied that you`re not speaking
to the world with force.
You said this shouldn`t be politicized, but then you kind of reacted
to what the governor had said. Some say were you not in turn politicizing
this whole issue as well?
OBAMA: Well, no, I don`t think so. I think my statements have been
very clear. I was asked directly by Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes" what I
thought of these comments and I said this wasn`t the time for politics.
I have observed that there`s a tendency to shoot before you aim, as I
pointed out, and that as president, my obligation is to focus on security
for our people, making sure that we gather all the facts, making sure that
we`re advancing American interests, and not having ideological arguments on
a day when we are mourning the loss of outstanding -- outstanding folks who
have served our country very well.
And, you know, I think at this point, probably, the best thing to do
would be to refer to questions about Mr. Romney`s comments to the Romney
MADDOW: Again, that was President Obama speaking within the hour with
Telemundo`s Jose Diaz-Balart. Excerpts will be seen tomorrow, further
excerpts of that interview will be aired tomorrow on "Un Nuevo Dia" on
Telemundo. Longer excerpts will air "Noticiero Telemundo" tomorrow at 6:30
p.m. Eastern, and the full interview with President Obama will air on
Telemundo "Enfoque with Jose Diaz-Balart." Again, the full interview on
All right. In terms of understanding what happened last night in
Benghazi, here`s one way into it. When Osama bin Laden was the head of al
Qaeda, the number two guy in command was this guy, Ayman al-Zawahiri,
right? That`s bin Laden on the right-hand side of your screen and al
Zawahiri on the right.
Zawahiri had previously been head of an Egyptian extremist group, but
he then merged that group into al Qaeda in the late 1990s. And in so
doing, he became bin Laden`s deputy in al Qaeda.
So when Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs last May, the man who
had been bin laden`s second in command for more than a decade in al Qaeda,
he moved up in al Qaeda. And he became al Qaeda`s new leader. So when the
head guy was killed, the deputy moved up to be the new head guy.
And when the deputy, al Zawahiri became the new head guy, who became
the new deputy? That was this guy, Abu Yahya al-Libi. He became the new
deputy in al Qaeda, the role that Zawahiri used to have after Zawahiri
moved up to replace bin Laden, after bin Laden got himself dead.
But in June of this year, al-Libi got dead too. He was killed in
June. And it turns out that that might be important to understanding what
just happened in Libya and why America just had an ambassador murdered in
the line of duty for the first time in 33 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Overseas tonight, the U.S. has confirmed
the killing with by CIA drone strike of another very senior al Qaeda
leader, and the man killed, Abu Yahya al-Libi is believed to rank second in
the organization and was involved in numerous terrorist plots against
Western targets over the years.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: U.S. officials are calling the death of al
Qaeda`s top strategist one of the biggest blows to the terror network since
the death of Osama bin Laden.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s certainly the most significant hit against al
Qaeda central there in Pakistan, since bin Laden`s death. The target was
al Qaeda`s number two in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: All of that footage from June of this year, OK? The al Qaeda
deputy who was killed in June used a number of different names. All these
guys do. All these guys do, but the alias by which he was best known was
Abu Yahya al-Libi.
Now, the al-Libi part of that just means the Libyan. He was
reportedly a citizen of Libya. And when he was killed on June 5th, a
Libyan extremist group, on June 6th, the very next day, launched attacks in
the city of Benghazi that they said were retaliation for al-Libi being
The video this group released online claimed credit for those attacks,
to say they were avenging the death of al-Libi, the video included shots of
explosions near the American consulate in Benghazi, the same consulate
where the ambassador and three other American officials were attacked and
then killed last night.
But that attack, revenge for the killing of al-Libi, that one happened
in June. Now, that was June. Yesterday, of course, was the anniversary of
9/11, when al Qaeda attacks killed 3,000 Americans in 2001.
Since the 9/11 attacks, al Qaeda has frequently timed statements and
provocations, if not actual new attacks, to coincide with the yearly 9/11
anniversaries. And this year, here`s how al Qaeda marked 9/11. It`s a
video by al Zawahiri, he`s the guy who`s in charge of al Qaeda since bin
Laden died. This video is a commemoration video of the death of al-Libi,
the death of the guy who the U.S. killed back in June.
The video released yesterday is roughly 42 minutes long. It`s labeled
as a statement on the martyrdom of the lion of Libya. And it calls for al
Qaeda followers to take revenge for al-Libi being killed by the United
States back in June.
That video came out yesterday. Last night, in Benghazi, where a
militant Libyan group had launched previous attacks, including an IED
attack on the U.S. consulate to avenge the death of al-Libi when al-Libi
died, last night, that same consulate attack was attacked again. Attacks
that reports say stretch on for hours, and that reportedly included rocket
propelled grenades and mortars, and that ultimately resulted in the gutting
of the consulate and the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and of three
Now, hard intelligence on what exactly happened is as yet hard to come
by, but the picture that is emerging is of a smallish, but basically
peaceful protest in Benghazi, a protest over an anti-Muslim video. The
same video that sparked protests in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world
over the last day or so.
But that protest was quickly joined and then supplanted by a well-
armed, organized group of fighters who arrived all at once in pickup trucks
and who then launched essentially a military assault on the U.S. consulate.
A group that`s being described as a sort of umbrella group for Islamist
militants in the area is claiming pseudo-responsibility for the attack.
But they`re also trying to describe it as a popular uprising.
It does not appear to have been much of a popular uprising. Similar
and possibly overlapping militant groups also claimed credit for a
firebombing in Benghazi in April that targeted the head of the U.N. mission
in Libya. They also claimed credit for a firebombing in May that targeted
the Red Cross office in Benghazi.
They also claimed credit for that attack on June 6th that the U.S.
consulate in Benghazi, the IED attack, that ended up in that video. They
also claimed credit for an attack less than a week later on the British
envoy to Libya, the British one. That attack also taking place in
And then a week after that, Islamist militants attacked another
consulate in Benghazi, the consulate of Tunisia.
So, yes, there is that video, this crude, anti-Muslim video which is
the latest anti-Muslim provocation causing protests and riots around the
world. We will talk more about that later.
But what happened last night in Libya does not seem to be the
spontaneous outburst of a crowd that had its sensitivities offended by
religious provocation. It does not seem to have been that kind of
violence, at least at this early date.
That angry religious mob phenomenon is part of the relevant context
for understanding how an American ambassador was killed last night. But it
may also be just as relevant to put it in context, put it in the context of
other terrorist attacks, organized terrorist attack on other U.S.
embassies, like in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Obviously, this is not on
the same scale, but this may have been the same kind of target.
You saw the president and the vice president today sort of implicitly
prepping the country for the possibility that this wasn`t just an incident
of mob violence, but rather an organized terrorist attack. When both the
president and vice president gave statements today about Benghazi, in which
they said the U.S. not only mourns this loss and is angered by this loss,
but that the United States intends to get justice here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great
nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we
stand for. Today, we mourn for more Americans who represent the very best
of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to
see that justice is done for this terrible act and make no mistake, justice
will be done.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me be clear. We
are resolved to bring to justice their killers.
BIDEN: And we will work -- we will work with the Libyan government
and our other partners to do just that. There is no place in the civilized
world for senseless murder like has occurred last night.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: Although the U.S. government is not saying definitively that
this was an organized terrorist attack and not just an incident of mob
violence gone horribly over the top, those kinds of statements that you saw
right there from the president and the vice president in terms of bringing
the perpetrators to justice are rarely the sorts of things you hear when
they are talking about just mob violence.
In terms of what the U.S. thinks justice looks like here and how they
are moving forward, the first step was to deploy a detachment of about 50
U.S. Marines. These Marines are part of a rapid reaction force that`s
prepared to move on very short notice to trouble spots around the world.
They will bolster security at the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, which is where
we`re told U.S. personnel in Libya have been moved to.
There are also U.S. drones flying over Libya. The U.S. government
says they will be used to identify militant targets. They say these are
surveillance drones, not shooting drones, so any targeting information they
turn up will be handed over to the Libyan authorities to act on.
Also, not incidentally, what, there go two U.S. Navy destroyers. Two
guided missile destroyers, the Laboon and the McFaul, to be positioned off
the Libyan coast. The primary weapons on these destroyers are Tomahawk
This is obviously a lot of big news tonight, but our coverage of the
attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, continues, including right
after this break, when we are going to be joined live from Egypt by NBC`s
chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: NBC`s Richard Engel is going to be joining us live from
We`re looking at images right now as we`re going to him of crowds
gathering in the streets outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo again. We`ll
be joined by Richard live from Cairo in just a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Today, many Americans are
asking, indeed, I asked myself, how could this happen? How could this
happen in a country we helped liberate in a city we helped save from
This question reflects just how complicated and at times how
confounding the world can be. But we must be clear-eyed, even in our
grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group, not the people or
government of Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today, pledging that the
attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi would not be the end of America`s
relationship with Libya. She also described that as a concerted attack by
a small group, not something representative of Libya as a nation.
Joining us now live from Cairo in Egypt is Richard Engel, NBC`s chief
foreign correspondent, who I`m hoping will forgive me for keeping him up
once again into another very, very late night. Thanks, Richard.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: No, it`s my
pleasure. And this is an important night.
And by the way, I think she`s right. The people in Libya are
overwhelmingly pro-American. They are overwhelming supportive of the U.S.
mission. They actually went out and protested today in favor of the United
States and had a big "I`m sorry" rally.
But the problem is, no one is really in charge of Libya. Even now,
there are many militia groups, there are many, we call them, al Qaeda
groups. Some of them are truly al Qaeda, like the followers of Abu Yahya
al-Libi, and some of them are not really al Qaeda, but they follow the same
And there are hundreds of these groups, and they are still armed and
they are still able to carry out these kind of attacks.
And one of these groups, which the U.S. is now hunting for, with
drones, and with Libyan support, was responsible for carrying out this
attack. Not like the incident as you rightly pointed out, that is still
ongoing here in Egypt, by the way.
MADDOW: Well, let me ask you about, in terms of what`s ongoing in
Egypt. We have seen images tonight, live images tonight of crowds in the
street, outside the Cairo embassy. From what you know happened there
yesterday, are you anticipating that these might escalate even from what we
have already seen? Can you tell us what`s going on right now in Cairo and
what it feels like there?
ENGEL: I don`t get the feeling that you`re going to have more
Egyptians try and climb over the fence and claim over the wall into the
U.S. embassy. What you saw tonight were Egyptian security forces trying to
push back demonstrators and to try and put up a defensive barrier, some
barbed wire around the perimeter of the U.S. embassy. They threw some tear
gas in, the demonstrators came back, they threw stones, and then the
Egyptian government effectively gave up and is allowing them to stay close-
And this is the battle that the Egyptian government is trying to do.
It wants to sort of butter both sides of the bread here. It wants to keep
the U.S. happy and listen to what President Obama was saying in that
speech, which I found very interesting, by the way. We`ll talk about that
more in a minute -- saying Egypt better be serious about protecting our
diplomats, so Egypt did dispatch forces and did try to push people away.
But this is a new Islamic, or Islamist, to use that term that is often
used, government. Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood, his heart and
his politics are with the people who are on the street, with the crowds who
are offended by this ridiculous video that was posted online. In fact,
already today, Morsi, the president, asked the U.S. embassy in Washington
to file a lawsuit in Egypt`s name against the director of this ridiculous
So he, in his heart of hearts, is against the movie, which I can
understand, and is trying to play that populist card a little bit. So he
doesn`t want to crush these demonstrations too much. And I think that`s
why we haven`t seen him come out, make any statements, go on television and
say what happened was wrong, because I`m not sure if he thinks what
happened was entirely wrong.
MADDOW: If he did go out and do that, would it have an effect on
those protesters, do you think? Does he hold enough sway with the hearts
of the people who are in those streets right now that he could affect what
ENGEL: He doesn`t want to go out and say, what you`re doing is wrong,
because the people who are out on the street think they`re out on the
street defending with their bodies and with stones and their ability to
climb over walls the reputation of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. And he`s
not going to go out on television and say what you`re doing is wrong.
I think that would be too much of a risk for him. I think that would
go against his moral structure, because this is the kind of guy who before
he became president, would likely have been out doing this kind of
demonstration. And although -- his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, has
called for more demonstrations on Friday.
MADDOW: Richard, last question on the issue, in terms of the U.S.
security response here. We`re seeing a FAST team of Marines, at 50 Marines
being deployed to go guard the U.S. embassy in Tripoli, the capital of
Libya. We`ve seen them discussing the fact that there are drones in Libya,
although we don`t necessarily believe that the drones ever left Libya in
their surveillance role after the toppling of Gadhafi.
Do you think in Egypt that it`s possible that the U.S. has to consider
fortifying security around the embassy with further Marines there? And do
you think that what`s being sent to Libya may actually end up in something
looking like a military engagement there, of any kind, or do you think
that`s essentially going to stay a defensive posture?
ENGEL: I think there`s already types of special operations going on
in Libya, in Mali, where al Qaeda has operated. There was great concern in
the military community that all of this Libyan weaponry suddenly
disappeared as Gadhafi`s regime collapsed. So I know the military has been
very concerned about this, concerned about the numerous militant factions.
If you remember, when we covered the Libyan revolution, there was all
this weaponry, these RPGs, the armories that were being looted. Well, when
the regime fell, a lot of that weaponry just disappeared. And the rebels
never disarmed. There was no weapons collection program, so the country
stayed militarized, if you will.
And there`s a central government that tries to organize picking up the
trash, but there are still all of these factions. And some of these
factions are very hard line, and one of them decided to take on the
consulate and burn it down and kill the U.S. ambassador.
And I think now the U.S. is trying to look for them, certainly.
They`ll have more Marines on the ground as a temporary fix to protect the
extra personnel crammed into the embassy in Tripoli, and they`re going to
be using the other factions, who are clearly embarrassed by what happened
and don`t like these hard line militants to find them.
I think their success rate will probably be pretty good, if they have
eyes in the air and they have a lot of goodwill on the ground from other
Going back to your question in Egypt, I don`t know if they can
necessarily or would need to necessarily reinforce the embassy here. It is
like a castle itself. Egypt has plenty of men in uniform that it could
The question, and I think what was most surprising about that
interview with Telemundo, was when the president said that he`s not sure if
Egypt anymore is an ally. He said it`s certainly not an enemy. That is so
different under Mubarak when Egypt was the cornerstone of U.S. relations
with the Arab world.
MADDOW: Richard Engel, NBC`s chief foreign correspondent -- thank you
for your time, once again. I feel both guilty for keeping you up, and
cognizant of the fact that while I`m keeping you up, the thing that you`re
reporting on is happening live in the place where you are.
You have a tough job, man. Stay safe. Thank you for being with us.
Thank you, Richard.
All right. Contrary to well-established expectations, Republican
presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, made this international crisis into a
campaign issue. And probably not in the way he expected to. The
surprisingly political part of this story is coming up next.
MADDOW: And then there was Republican presidential nominee Mitt
Romney`s response to the attacks in Benghazi and the protests in Cairo.
The consensus on the left and on the right and in the Beltway is that Mr.
Romney either blundered this really, really badly, or he is playing some
heretofore unknown ultra master level of political chess that we just don`t
understand yet. Which do you think it is? That`s coming up.
MADDOW: It was this week four years ago, it was this week during the
last presidential campaign where the home stretch of that campaign had a
very clear beginning. It was almost four years ago today, in fact, that
the financial giant Lehman Brothers suddenly collapsed. By September 2008,
the financial collapse in this country was pretty much in full gear and it
really changed the presidential election.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain took the bold step of
suspending his campaign in order to head back to D.C. to work on the
crisis. The McCain campaign tried to sell that decision as a country-
first, patriotic, bigger-than-politics kind of move, but John McCain
ultimately did not really have anything of substance to say about the
financial crisis when he got back to Washington. He did not seem to
contribute min meaningfully to any proposed solution.
And him suspending his campaign to go back and essentially being seen
sitting mutely in rooms where things were being decided without him smacked
of political desperation and frankly it was downhill for his campaign from
there until the end. It`s not like there was no suspense on election
night, but sometime between that campaign Hail Mary decision around this
time four years ago and election night, it just started to feel like it was
over for John McCain.
And never more so when Republican foreign policy stalwart Colin Powell
went on "Meet the Press" and officially endorsed Barack Obama over the man
from his own party.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLIN POWELL, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think he is a
transformational figure. He is a new generation coming into the world --
on to the world stage, on to the American stage, and for that reason, I`ll
be voting for Senator Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That endorsement from Colin Powell was sort of the nail in
the coffin for John McCain`s presidential campaign. Now, that endorsement,
it should be said, appears to be on the bubble for Mitt Romney`s campaign
this time around. And it appears to be on that bubble in large part
because of foreign policy, because of a stream of intemperate statements
that Mr. Romney has made on foreign policy -- at least statements that were
seen as intemperate.
This is what Mitt Romney said back in January about his strategy, for
example, towards Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is, without question,
our number one geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world`s
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Russia, our number one geopolitical foe. That comment, as
well as the foreign policy advisers that Mr. Romney surrounded himself
with, ultimately drew this rebuke from Colin Powell. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POWELL: I don`t know who all of his advisers are, but I`ve seen some
of the names and some of them are quite far to the right, and sometimes
they, I think, might be in a position to make judgments or recommendations
to the candidate that should get a second thought. For example, when
Governor Romney not too long ago said, you know, the Russian Federation is
our number one geostrategic threat. Well, come on, Mitt -- think, that
isn`t is case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Come on, Mitt, think. Mr. Romney`s sort of half-cocked
remarks about Russia being our number one geopolitical foe have been
criticized, of course, by great effect by Democrats, by the other side.
But they also have caused him a lot of trouble within his own party as
well. It happened on this issue of Russia.
It also happened on the issue of China. You may remember Mr. Romney
running up against the same sort of issue Chen Guangcheng, the blind
dissident in China who was ordered to remain under house arrest by the
Chinese government and who sought help from U.S. officials in China.
While U.S. officials were engaged in intense and very delicate
negotiations over Chen`s fate, Mitt Romney took to the campaign trail in
order to attack the Obama administration`s handling of the situation. He
based his attack solely on minute-by-minute reports that were coming out of
China at the time the crisis was still ongoing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: It`s also apparent, according to these reports, if they`re
accurate, that our embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable
measures that would assure the safety of Mr. Chen and his family. If these
reports are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it`s a day of shame
for the Obama administration. We are a place of freedom, here and around
the world, and we should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A dark day, a day of shame, he said.
Mr. Romney made those remarks at about 2:00 in the afternoon on May
3rd. And they drew an almost immediate rebuke from even staunch
conservatives, like, for example, Bill K, that very same afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL KRISTOL, WEEKLY STANDARD: I mean, I`m happy to be critical of
the Obama administration, as anyone is, but I think this is an awfully
fast-moving story, and if I was advising Governor Romney, I would say, you
don`t need to get in the middle of this story. To inject yourself in the
middle of it this way, though, when there were all kinds of negotiations
going on, and a fast-moving story, I think it`s foolish.
There`s no need to butt into a fast moving story when the secretary of
state is in Beijing, in delicate negotiations and say, it`s a day of shame
for the Obama administration. Hillary Clinton`s waking up right now.
Let`s see if she can pull this off in the next 12 hours or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It turns out Secretary Clinton was able to pull it off. Just
eight hours after Mitt Romney declared a day of shame for the Obama
administration, U.S. officials who were working on the problem at the time
announced that they had reached an agreement with China that would allow
Chen to travel to the United States.
Mr. Romney`s half-cocked handling of that situation was an
embarrassment for him and his campaign, and earned him some rather alarmed
criticism, even from conservatives at this time.
And now, Mr. Romney has popped off once again. Late last night, while
the U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya were still under physical
attack, the Romney campaign, during those attacks, released a statement to
the press, not only attacking President Obama, but attacking U.S.
diplomatic personnel in the places that were being attacked for their
handling of the ongoing situations there.
Mr. Romney`s statement read in part, quote, "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 attacks."
Well, Mr. Romney was preferably referring to there was this statement
that was put out by the U.S. embassy in Cairo. It was a statement that
acknowledged an offensive, crude, anti-Islamic video that had been produced
in the United States.
That statement that Mr. Romney described as sympathizing with the
attackers was put out a full six hours before the attackers breached the
embassy walls. It was a statement that was an attempt to tamp down any
reaction to this stupid video. It wasn`t a reaction to the protests, the
protests didn`t exist yet.
Mr. Romney took a statement urging calm, and used it as an opportunity
to accuse the president of the United States of sympathizing with those who
were at that time attacking the United States.
By early this morning, after it became clear that a U.S. ambassador
named Christopher Stevens had been killed in Libya, after it became clear
that Mr. Romney`s timeline of events in Egypt was completely wrong, the
Republican presidential nominee took to the podium and he did not walk back
his initial remarks. He decided to double down on them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The statement that came from the administration and the
embassy is the administration, the statement that came from the
administration was a statement which is akin to apology, and I think was a
severe miscalculation. The statements were inappropriate and in my view, a
disgraceful statement on the part of our administration to apologize for
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: A part of the U.S. government was under attack -- Mitt Romney
responded while the attack was still going on, to attack that same part of
the U.S. government. He called the actions of embassy personnel in Egypt,
Just like in previous situations, some of the harshest criticism of
Mr. Romney has been coming from his own side, from fellow Republicans.
Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan telling FOX News today, sometimes
today when really bad things happen, when hot things happen, cool words or
no words is the way to go.
Mark Salter, a former top aide to Senator John McCain described Mr.
Romney`s comments today as unfair and hyperbolic, as well as unseemly in
One senior Republican foreign policy adviser telling the Web site
BuzzFeed today, they were just trying to score a cheap news cycle hit based
on the embassy statement and now it`s just completely blown up. It`s an
Another Republican telling BuzzFeed, quote, "They`re incompetent at
talking effectively about foreign policy. This is just unbelievable."
Those are the Republicans. To give you a sense of the magnitude of
this as a screw-up, even must generic mainstream journalists and
commentators who are not plainly for Mitt Romney or against him, people who
aren`t on one side or the other, people whose job it is to observe and
therefore in some ways create the norms of politics, even they were shocked
by how far this was outside what is considered to be responsible by anybody
who wants to be taken seriously in American politics, let alone anyone who
wants to be considered for a job as serious as the president of the United
NBC`s Chuck Todd said that he was stunned that the Romney campaign
reacted the way that he did. He described the campaign`s actions as
ABC`s Jake Tapper said that Mr. Romney`s criticism, quote, "does not
stand up to simple chronology."
Ron Fournier of "The National Journal" described Mitt Romney`s
response as "ham-handed and inaccurate."
"Time" magazine`s Mark Halperin described it as one of the most craven
and ill-advised tactical moves in this entire campaign.
"The Washington Post" editorial board describing Mr. Romney`s reaction
as, quote, "a discredit to his campaign."
Republicans in position of leadership, most Republicans in Congress,
did not react today the same way that Mitt Romney did to this crisis.
Statements from Republicans like John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, mostly
hued to the sort of basically decent idea that when America is attacked,
you don`t pile on right that second while the attack is still happening.
You issue sober statements of concern and anger over the attacks, you offer
your prayers for the families of those affected, and you reiterate
America`s resolve in the face of this difficulty.
And that was exactly the reaction today from most responsible
Republicans. And that fact further shone a spotlight on how shockingly
different Mr. Romney`s statements were. They were talking points that the
Romney campaign circulated today in other Republicans in an effort to get
other Republicans to try to sound more like Mitt Romney, to start talking
about this crisis more in the way that he did. Will he be able to drag the
rest of the Republican Party into his way of seeing this?
More on that with NBC`s Andrea Mitchell, ahead.
MADDOW: NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent is Andrea Mitchell
and she joins us next on this very major news day. Plus, we`ve got once
again, the news that President Obama made tonight in his interview with
Telemundo. We`ve got the president making big news on the issue of Egypt.
Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPs)
ROMNEY: Simply put, having an embassy which is, has been breached and
has protesters on its ground, having violated the sovereignty of the United
States, having that embassy reiterate a statement, effectively apologizing
for the right of free speech, is not the right course for an
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR: Governor Romney has in a very
unwise way injected himself into a situation where he clearly doesn`t have
all the facts. In no way, shape or form is the U.S. government or the
Obama administration apologizing for terrorists or sympathizing with them.
I was a Foreign Service office myself for nearly 27 years. I served in
both Republican and Democratic administrations and I think it`s really
important that we not play politics with this.
(END VIDEO LCIP)
MADDOW: Strong words there from former U.S. ambassador, veteran
diplomat Nicholas Burns, in response to Mitt Romney this afternoon. Mr.
Burns in that place where you saw him there, was being interviewed by my
next guest, NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, the host of MSNBC`s
"ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS," which today at 1:00 p.m. on MSNBC was riveting,
it was like time stopped.
Andrea Mitchell, thank you for being here. It`s been a long day.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It`s
been a long day but it`s such an interesting day because it was revealing.
It was one of those moments where the character and the policy were both
revealed. It was very transparent.
MADDOW: Let me ask you about the timing here, as far as I understand
it, roughly this time last night, you were trying to get confirmation on
what happened in Benghazi last night, when the Romney campaign statement
got emailed out to reporters.
Is that unusual in terms of the timing? And what do you think is
important about that?
MITCHELL: I thought it was extraordinary. And that was the first
signal that things have changed in a very strange way. As you know, we
were trying to get confirmation. The State Department was telling us we
cannot tell you whether or not an American diplomat was one of the people
killed and when we do know, we`re going to have to notify next of kin
before we tell anybody and we wouldn`t broadcast that in any case.
So, you know, you were on the air, I was trying to get a report
together for you and it didn`t happen before 10:00. And then the next
thing we had a statement from the Romney campaign which they had released
earlier than they had anticipated, and they were criticizing the statement
from the Cairo embassy and calling it an apology.
And today, he made a disgraceful apology and put it at the feet of the
president and said it`s the president who`s responsible for that, not a
press officer in an embassy that was very worried about what they were
seeing in the media in Egypt that there was a lot of talk, a lot of chatter
out there on 9/11, no less, about this hideous movie, a video that wasn`t
even being distributed as a movie. And it was a lot of bad information.
So they were perhaps inartfully trying to put out a statement, fairly
routine in all diplomacy to put out a statement like that to try to appeal
to the more radical segments to tell them to be quiet, to not protest. And
that became the apology?
And then when we really went back and checked over the last hours and
all day and all morning, it turns out that that statement from Cairo,
Rachel, was first issued six hours before the protest. So it was
preemptive. It had nothing to do with responding to it.
And certainly it would be very strange to put it at the feet of the
president of the United States. This is a press officer in an embassy run
by one of the most veteran diplomats. One of George W. Bush`s favorite
diplomats, Ann Paterson, who would come from Pakistan to take over Egypt,
and she wasn`t even in the country, not responsible. She was on home
MADDOW: Andrea, obviously the Romney campaign has a lot of veteran
political advisers. Mitt Romney hasn`t served in any capacity that would
give him experience directly. But he`s been advised by a campaign that has
a lot of old hands. That`s why this seems surprising to me. I don`t know
whether to see this as an attempt at political boldness and political
aggression, or whether this was something screwed up, really as the
president said today ,shooting first and aiming later.
You are experience on these issues than anybody. What do you think?
MITCHELL: A couple of cross currents here. First of all, it came
right after Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and others had criticized him for
being too weak and not being aggressive enough. So I think they were
looking for an opportunity.
They certainly had to be defensive for having failed to mention
Afghanistan in their convention speech and they had been trying to defend
themselves against that attack on foreign policy, so perhaps that weighed
But there`s also something in the air here. A minute does not pass
where either campaign, both campaigns, aren`t putting out a press release
on something or another. It`s not just the social media. It`s, you know,
old fashioned press releases. And combative and it`s bang, bang, push,
shove -- one side, the other side, both guilty of this.
And this is a serious business and this is not the stuff of combative
political press releases. And I can`t recall, Rachel, I don`t think you
can, another time when the United States was under fire, literally, where a
presidential candidate in either party put out a press release. The normal
response would be -- do nothing or say we have one president at a time,
there will be plenty of time later on to respond.
MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent,
host of "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS", weekday afternoons at 1:00 Eastern here
on MSNBC, and a woman of invaluable perspective on nights like this. Thank
MITCHELL: Thank you.
MADDOW: I really appreciate it.
All right. We`ll have more on our top story in a moment. And the
news that President Obama made an exclusive interview tonight. That`s been
nowhere other than here. You heard Richard Engel talking about it earlier
tonight. You saw the tape at the beginning of the hour. We`ll be back
with that news.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: OK. Just before we came on the air tonight, President Obama
sat down with Telemundo news anchor Jose Diaz-Balart. And the president in
that interview gave his first extended responses to questions about the
deadly attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi that killed our
ambassador there, and the protest at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, which
appeared to have started back up tonight as week.
More of the interview is going to air tomorrow on Telemundo morning
show, which is "Un Nuevo Dia," as well as their nightly news program with
Jose Diaz-Balart. But we were able to airport of this interview
exclusively tonight and the president has made some news here. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIAZ-BALART: Would you consider the current Egyptian regime an ally
of the United States?
OBAMA: I don`t think that we would consider them an ally. But we
don`t consider them an enemy. They are a new government that is trying to
find its way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We wouldn`t consider them an ally, he said, but we don`t
consider them an enemy. In diplomacy at the presidential level words like
that are chosen very carefully and those words represent news in terms of
the U.S. relationship with the country which had during the time of Hosni
Mubarak been among America`s closest allies in the Arab world.
The story is obviously still unfolding. There are more protests
tonight in Cairo as we speak. We will have more tomorrow night. You want
to keep it here.
Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" with Lawrence O`Donnell. Thanks for
being with us tonight. Have a good one.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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