NBC's Mitchell: Is Romney 'Injecting Politics Into a National Tragedy?'

On her 1 p.m. et MSNBC program on Wednesday, host Andrea Mitchell interrogated former United Nations Ambassador and Romney advisor Richard Williamson on the Republican presidential candidate's criticism of President Obama's response to attacks in Egypt and Libya: "Does it seem to be injecting politics into a national tragedy?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Williamson dismissed Mitchell's question: "Andrea, you're an experienced reporter. You've had the same questions asked about your own reporting from time to time....You're engaging in a process question. The importance is the substance of what's going on in the Middle East, where the U.S. is being compromised and in retreat."

Mitchell began the contentious exchange by wondering: "What about the questions that have been raised about the Romney campaign jumping on this with a statement while we didn't even know the identities of who had died, and without knowing the timeline of what had happened?"

Williamson shot back:

You know, as a lawyer, I'm familiar with the old saw that when you don't have the facts, you argue process. And that's what's going on here with the White House trying to have a discussion of timing of a statement. The fact is, the substance of what the Governor said last night was true. He continues to stand by it. We shouldn't be on an apology tour.

Williamson continued: "...the substance of what the Governor said last night was true then and it's true now. And the American people have a choice to make and it's between an administration that apologizes for our values and principles and someone who stands up for it."

Mitchell sneered:

How is it an apology for our values to issue a statement before a protest even happens?...You're suggesting, and Governor Romney is suggesting, that the – that the statement from Cairo was apologizing for something that had not happened for another six hours. That's why process matters. Facts matter.

Williamson dismantled her version of events: "Andrea, I believe if you – I believe if your reporters on the ground check, it was reissued after the U.S. compound in Cairo was breached."

Mitchell insisted: "I don't know that to be the facts."


Here is a full transcript of the September 12 interview:

1:29PM ET

ANDREA MITCHELL: Mitt Romney in Florida this morning, standing by his original statement, the printed statement last night, regarding the events in Libya and Egypt, as reporters were plying him with questions about the timing of his comments. And joining me now, Richard Williamson, former Ambassador to the United Nations for Special Political Affairs, currently a senior foreign adviser to the Romney campaign. Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us. What about the questions that have been raised about the Romney campaign jumping on this with a statement while we didn't even know the identities of who had died, and without knowing the timeline of what had happened?

RICHARD WILLIAMSON: You know, as a lawyer, I'm familiar with the old saw that when you don't have the facts, you argue process. And that's what's going on here with the White House trying to have a discussion of timing of a statement. The fact is, the substance of what the Governor said last night was true. He continues to stand by it. We shouldn't be on an apology tour. But rather, be aggressive in condemning this breach of sovereign American soil. We should be defending our principles, our free speech in pluralism, and first and foremost, this morning, when we've learned that a life was lost and other lives were lost, we have to be conscious of our condolences and sympathy and appreciation for their service. But the substance of what the Governor said last night was true then and it's true now. And the American people have a choice to make and it's between an administration that apologizes for our values and principles and someone who stands up for it.

MITCHELL: Ambassador-

WILLIAMSON: Someone who lead from behind, which contributed to the turmoil and someone who wants to lead from the front.

MITCHELL: Forgive me for interrupting. How is it an apology for our values to issue a statement before a protest even happens?

WILLIAMSON: Because, because-

MITCHELL: You're suggesting, and Governor Romney is suggesting, that the – that the statement from Cairo was apologizing for something that had not happened for another six hours. That's why process matters. Facts matter.

WILLIAMSON: Andrea, I believe if you – I believe if your reporters on the ground check, it was reissued after the U.S. compound in Cairo was breached. Second, it-

MITCHELL: It was on a website and may not have been taken down, I don't know that to be the facts.

WILLIAMSON: It's my understanding it was reissued, it was not taken down, and, in fact, the White House didn't respond and back away from it and say they did not approve of the statement until many hours later, after President Obama had seen the statement from Governor Romney.

MITCHELL: Do you think it was appropriate for Governor Romney to issue a statement last night, when the State Department, the CIA, the White House, were all scrambling to try to find out who were these Americans? One American, we now know the Ambassador, had been carried by Libyans to the hospital, the identities were still trying to be ascertained, they were trying to notify next of kin. And then again today, for Mitt Romney to come out in the 10:00 half hour, before the President of the United States made a scheduled statement at 10:35, does it seem to be injecting politics into a national tragedy?

WILLIAMSON: Andrea, you're an experienced reporter. You've had the same questions asked about your own reporting from time to time. You have seen American political personalities making statements in difficult times. The American people are being asked to make a decision between the failed policies of President Obama and the proposals of Governor Romney. Governor Romney has said that you shouldn't hesitate to stand up for our values. That's what he did last night.

You're engaging in a process question. The importance is the substance of what's going on in the Middle East, where the U.S. is being compromised and in retreat. Where there's turmoil because we failed to lead, whether it's in the broader Middle East, in Syria, in Iran. Those are the questions the American people want, not the White House desire to have a discussion about process and timing.

MITCHELL: Well, I was just interviewing ambassador Nic Burns, who as you know, first served under George Herbert Walker Bush and has served as a foreign service officer and ambassador in two administrations.

WILLIAMSON: He first served under Jimmy Carter. I mean, he served as a foreign service officer first under Jimmy Carter, then Reagan. Yes, he's fair ambassador and I respect him.

MITCHELL: And served with Condoleezza Rice and was appointed an ambassador by George – by George W. Bush.

WILLIAMSON: And I respect him. He could have a different view, so what?

MITCHELL: Okay. As you said, facts matter. Thank you very much, Ambassador Williamson from the Romney campaign.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC