- Moderator said Romney was incorrect to question whether the President called the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi an ‘act of terror’
- Crowley claimed she waded in over Libya to ‘bring clarity’ to debate
- Later backtracked and admitted Romney ‘was right in the main’
- Michelle Obama caught on camera applauding controversial moment
- GOP aides say moderator ‘had no business’ interrupting the candidate
- Obama spoke for three more minutes than Romney during New York debate
- Republican extends lead in national polls released on Wednesday morning
PUBLISHED:20:23 EST, 16 October 2012| UPDATED:13:12 EST, 17 October 2012
Candy Crowley admitted that Mitt Romney was RIGHT to criticise Barack Obama for his response to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi just hours after she apparently sided with Obama at a crucial point in the high drama presidential debate on Tuesday night.
The moderator’s shock intervention, in which she cut Romney short when he claimed that Obama had failed to say the attack was the work of terrorists in the his Rose Garden statement the following day, has been met with outrage.
However, Crowley appeared to backtrack just a few hours after she left the GOP candidate exposed on the stage in front of millions of viewers. She admitted that Romney had been ‘right in the main’ but added that he had ‘picked the wrong word’.
The row intensified when Michelle Obama was caught on camera applauding Crowley’s intervention – despite rules banning members of the audience from clapping or otherwise showing support during the debate, which has been called the ‘most rancorous’ in history.
The fiery clash came as President Obama continued to struggle in the polls, with the latest data showing a six-point lead for Romney, who is also performing strongly in the Democratic-leaning swing state of Wisconsin.
Scroll down for footage of the electric clash
Hot seat: Moderator Candy Crowley talks to the audience at Hofstra University on Long Island last night before Barack Obama and Mitt Romney took to the stage for the second presidential debate
At loggerheads: Both candidates talk at once as they disagree over how Obama handled the Benghazi attack
No pussyfooting around: Crowley often struggled to control the candidates as they spoke over each other
Not impressed: Mr Obama fixes an angry stare at his opponent
A storm of protest has followed the incident. Top Romney allies said Crowley ‘had no business’ intervening in the argument, accusing her of ‘getting in the game’ rather than being an impartial observer.
During a question about security at the Benghazi compound, where four American officials including ambassador Chris Stevens were killed on September 11, Obama said he was ultimately responsible as commander-in-chief.
Romney then questioned whether or not Obama had called the consulate attack an ‘act of terror’ in his Rose Garden address the following day.
While Obama cut across Romney – saying ‘look at the transcript’ – Crowley seemed to back up the President, telling the Republican governor that Obama did ‘call it an act of terror’.
THAT CRUNCH EXCHANGE IN FULL
ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror. It was not a spontaneous demonstration.
OBAMA: Please proceed.
ROMNEY: Is that what you’re saying?
OBAMA: Please proceed, Governor.
ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.
OBAMA: Get the transcript.
CROWLEY: It – he did in fact, sir.
OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?
CROWLEY: He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.
Her interjection drew applause from the audience, led by Mrs Obama, but angered political commentators, who accused Crowley of stepping in on behalf of the President.
Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro called the moderator’s reactions a ‘disgrace’ while his colleague John Nolte said Crowley ‘lied to save Obama’.
Democratic strategist Joe Trippi told Fox News the exchange was ‘going to help the President’, adding: ‘There’s a ref, and the ref just threw the flag.’
Romney advisor Ron Kaufman continued the sporting metaphor as he said: ‘At different times tonight, she in fact got into the game, and she wasn’t on the sidelines.’
And former New Hampshire governor John Sununu said: ‘Candy was wrong, and Candy had no business doing that, and Candy didn’t even keep the time right.’
However, top Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom insisted he was relaxed about the controversial intervention, saying: ‘I don’t complain about the refs – I think Candy was dandy.’
The shock moment came in the middle of what CBS News anchor Scott Pelley described as ‘the most rancorous presidential debate ever’, adding: ‘We have never seen anything like that in presidential history. They turned every question from the audience into an attack on the other.’
Crowley often struggled to control the candidates as they spoke over each other amid angry exchanges.
The pair bordered on being physically aggressive, coming toe-to-toe and looming over each other as they gesticulated at each other.
Obama’s in-your-face performance was a major improvement on his display in Denver, and viewers rated him the winner by a seven-point margin in a CNN poll – 46 per cent, compared to 39 per cent for the challenger.
But Romney scored a number of points, especially on the economy, and in the CNN poll only 38 per cent felt Obama had a clear plan for the country while 50 per cent thought Romney had one.
In another poll by CBS, 37 per cent of those surveyed said Obama won with Romney trailing at 30 per cent.
Obama’s much better showing might not be enough to halt his slide in the national polls, which has seen Romney gain around five points nationally and take a narrow but clear lead.
The Gallup tracking poll on Wednesday gave the Republican a lead of six points as he took 51 per cent of the vote, with 45 per cent for Obama, while he was just one point behind in Wisconsin, where the incumbent has until now held on to a large lead.
Early reports indicated that the debate on Long Island had pulled in a smaller audience than the first event in Denver, with around six per cent fewer tuning in.
Crowley’s interjection angered political commentators, who said she had stepped in on behalf of the President
Rule-breaking: Michelle Obama can be seen clapping in the bottom right corner of this image
Obama at one point said it was ‘offensive’ of Romney to suggest that his administration’s response to the Libya consulate attack was politically motivated.
Obama said: ‘The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror.’
Romney then questioned the veracity of Obama’s remarks. He said: ‘I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.’
While Romney continued to question Obama’s claims, Crowley interjected: ‘He [Obama] did in fact, sir.’
Obama then said: ‘Can you say that a little louder, Candy?’ to laughter and applause from the audience.
Then rather belatedly, Crowley told Romney: ‘He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take – it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.’
The exchange was the only point during the debate when Crowley sought to correct one of the candidates on a point of fact.
The morning after: Obama leaves the White House on Wednesday morning after the debate
Happy? Romney walks up to his campaign plane at the airport in Ronkonkoma, New York on Wednesday
YOU DECIDE: TRANSCRIPT OF OBAMA’S ROSE GARDEN SPEECH
Last night’s second presidential debate reignited the controversy over Obama’s words following the September 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.
The following day, he made this speech from the White House Rose Garden:
‘Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourned with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed.
‘And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
‘As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
‘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 four 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.’
A number of audience members could clearly be heard applauding the line. Nearly all the applause came from the higher levels of the auditorium, not from the debate participants.
But one person within the inner circle did participate in the illicit ovation – Mrs Obama was caught on camera clapping during the heated back-and-forth.
The First Lady was given three tickets to the debate and allowed to sit among the participants who were involved with questioning the candidates.
The moderator later appeared to backtrack on her own comments, saying ‘it was just the natural thing to come out of me’ but admitting that the substance of Romney’s assertion was correct.
‘He was right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word,’ she said during a post-debate appearance on CNN.
The audience member who asked the question which touched off the controversy said he did not feel Obama had answered his query.
‘I really didn’t think he totally answered the question satisfactorily as far as I was concerned,’ Kerry Ladka told the Washington Post.
Ladka, 61, asked who ‘denied enhanced security’ to the Benghazi consulate – but the President avoided the issue, instead offering a tribute to U.S. diplomats and an attack on his opponent.
After the debate, Obama approached Ladka for a two-minute conversation in which he said he could not answer the question because ‘releasing the individual names of anyone in the State Department would really put them at risk’.
The undecided voter told the Post, ‘I appreciate his private answer more than his public answer’ – though his high regard for Romney’s business record means he has still not made up his mind how to vote.
Another questioner, Jeremy Epstein, did decide whom to vote for during last night’s debate – but has refused to say which candidate he now supports.
The 20-year-old student paid tribute to both participants, saying: ‘Mitt Romney’s first answer – I felt like he was staring into my soul, just right through me, when he was asking me the question.
‘And then when the President came up, I felt like he, you know he started up by saying my future’s bright – I feel like they were both sincere.’
Epstein spoke to the two candidates after the debate – and argued with Obama over whether he would beat him in a one-on-one game of basketball.
Carol Goldberg said she had been swayed towards the President based on his answer to her question about how to keep jobs from being outsourced overseas.
Obama replied, ‘There are some jobs that are not going to come back. Because they are low-wage, low-skill jobs. I want high-wage, high-skill jobs.’
‘I believe that’s true,’ Goldberg told the Huffington Post. ‘I thought that was a very good answer.’
Anger: Romney lost his temper at one point as he ordered the President not to interrupt himDuring his Rose Garden address on September 12, the day following the attack in Benghazi, Obama said: ‘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.’
While he did therefore establish a link between the raid and ‘terror’ as a whole, he did not explicitly say that he believed it to have been conducted by terrorists.
And over the next few days, the President repeatedly linked the attack to protests against a U.S.-made YouTube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad which were sweeping the Muslim world at the time.
The attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was a talking point again during Vice President Joe Biden’s debate last week.
Biden claimed in the debate with Republican VP nominee Paul Ryan that ‘we weren’t told’ about requests for extra security at the consulate.
TIMELINE OF ADMINISTRATION’S SHIFTING POSITION ON DEADLY ATTACK
September 11: Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others are killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
September 12: Barack Obama makes a statement saying, ‘No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation,’ but does not explicitly label the raid a terrorist attack.
September 13: White House press secretary Jay Carney blames the assault on a U.S.-made YouTube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad.
September 16: Susan Rice, American ambassador to the UN, says she believes the attack ‘began as a spontaneous, not premeditated, response’ to protests over the video.
September 20: Carney says, ‘It is self-evident that what happened in Benghazi was a terrorist attack.’
September 25: Obama declines to label the attack as terrorism during an appearance on The View.
October 9: State Department officials insist they never linked the attack to the video protests.
Embrace: The First Couple hugged after the debate, with Mrs Obama, like her counterpart, dressed in pink
In waiting: Romney with his wife Ann, in a pink brocade coat over her neon dress, and their son Matt and his wife Laurie sit backstage before the debateOn Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was forced to come to his defence.
Pushing back against Republican criticism of the Obama administration for its handling of the situation, Clinton said that security at all of America’s diplomatic missions abroad is her job, not that of the White House.
She said: ‘I take responsibility… The President and the Vice President wouldn’t be knowledgeable about specific decisions that are made by security professionals.’
The Libya question was one moment when Crowley struggled to rein in the debate on Tuesday night.
She failed to shut down both Obama and Romney when they ran over allocated times and attacked each other in angry exchanges.
In her opening statement at the town hall debate in New York,Ms Crowley said: ‘Because I am the optimistic sort, I’m sure the candidates will oblige by keeping their answers concise and on point’.
It was revealed from CNN timekeeping on the debate, that Obama had spoke for three extra minutes
The President got 44:04 minutes of speaking time, while Romney got 40:50.
BARACK OBAMA IN QUOTES
On the budget:
‘Governor Romney’s allies in Congress have held the 98 per cent hostage because they want tax breaks for the top 2 per cent.’
On Romney’s economic plan:
‘Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan, he’s got a one-point plan. To make sure that the folks at the top play by a separate set of rules.’
On Romney’s investments in China:
‘Governor, you are the last person who is going to get tough on China.’
On his pension:
‘I don’t look at my pension, it’s not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long.’
On being defended by the moderator:
‘Can you say that a little louder, Candy?’
MITT ROMNEY IN QUOTES
On his opponent:
‘Thank you, Mr President, for being a part of this debate.’
On the deficit:
‘I know what it takes to balance budgets. I’ve done it my entire life.’
‘You get your chance in a moment, I’m still speaking.’
On Obama’s response to the Libya attack:
‘The President, the day after it happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser.’
On the President’s rhetoric:
‘He’s great as a speaker, and describing his plans and vision. That’s wonderful, except we have a record to look at.’
Killings: Ambassador Chris Stevens was one of four Americans murdered in Benghazi on September 11 (right)
Obama and Romney had both expressed concern over Crowley’s role ahead of the debate because she was robust in saying beforehand that she would not shirk from guiding the conversation.
Lawyers for both Democratic and Republican campaigns complained about comments the CNN journalist made ahead of the town hall-style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York tonight.
Her job was to referee the two presidential candidates as they answered questions from online viewers and members of the audience.
But in an interview, she indicated that she planned to take a more aggressive stance than the last moderator Jim Lehrer who was roundly criticized for a listless performance and letting Obama and Romney walk all over him.
Where PBS veteran Lehrer said his job was to stay out of the way, Crowley planned a different set of tactics.
The political correspondent said: ‘Once the table is kind of set by the town hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, “Hey, wait a second, what about x, y, z?”‘
Both candidates appeared less than pleased with her remarks – and they weren’t the only ones.
The Commission on Presidential Debates has also complained, saying Crowley’s remarks are vastly different from the memo that was signed by lawyers for both campaigns.
‘In managing the two-minute comment periods, the moderator will not rephrase the question or open a new topic,’ the legal document obtained by Time says.
Watch the video of Michelle clapping
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