State Department spokesman Philippe Reines gets testy

September 24, 2012

Two weeks after Mitt Romney took heat for his criticism of the Obama administration after the attacks on consulates in Egypt and Libya, the Obama administration was the one in a defensive stance.

After questioning State Department spokesman Philippe Reines about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and not getting anywhere, BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings posted their entire e-mail exchange online -- showing that Reines cut off contact with a "f--- off." He also called Hastings an "unmitigated a------." 

Hastings — who wrote the Rolling Stone piece that lead to Gen. Stanley McChrystal's resignation as commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan — was hardly a model of civility. He called Reines's response "bulls---" and alluded to "complaints" from women who have dated the spokesman. 

The dispute is over tension between the State Department and CNN. CNN found and reported on a diary kept by U.S. Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens, in which he voiced concerns about terror threats. Stevens was killed in the attack. The State Department has castigated CNN for making the diary public after promising to deliver it to Stevens's family and wait for their approval. (Read Erik Wemple for more.)

Hastings has argued that the State Department reaction shows that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is worried about her own legacy in Libya and that what happened on Sept. 11, is "largely — if not entirely — a State Department botch." Reines is a longtime Clinton loyalist, who was profiled by the Post last year.  

"The self-promoting 41-year-old bachelor and the press-scarred senior stateswoman share a bond forged by political civil wars, distrust of the media and an absolute reliance on allegiance," Jason Horowitz wrote. 

Romney has barely mentioned the Libyan embassy attack after his initial, hasty response, which polling found to be unpopular. But other Republicans have hammered the administration for saying the embassy attack appears to have been unplanned. And since President Obama's "60 Minutes" interview Sunday, in which he said recent problems in the Middle East are "bumps in the road,"  Romney has begun arguing that the president is playing down threats. 

"Well, I think the president’s comments on ‘60 Minutes’ last night were quite revealing,” Romney said earlier Monday. “His indication that developments in the Middle East represent ‘bumps in the road’ is a very different view than I have. . . . I can’t imagine saying something like the assassination of ambassadors is a bump in the road.”

In a Romney campaign conference call with reporters Monday afternoon, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor mentioned the "question of the security of our embassies" as an example of why "we need a much stronger hand at the helm as far as foreign policy is concerned."

 

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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Rachel Weiner · September 24, 2012