The campaign of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani Wednesday aggressively challenged comments made at a debate by opponent Mitt Romney, who had suggested lawyers would play a leading role in how to respond to an international crisis.
The Giuliani campaign has branded Romney's response "the lawyer's test" and is trying to use the response as a way to portray the former Massachusetts governor as unsure of himself and less than commanding on issues of terrorism, which Giuliani considers his strength.
Giuliani Camp Goes On the Attack
Asked during Tuesday's CNBC debate in Dearborn, Mich., if he would obtain congressional authorization before taking any military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, Romney said, "You sit down with your attorneys and they tell you what you have to do, but obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat."
Romney added that President Bush "did that as he was planning on moving into Iraq and received the authorization of Congress."
Pressed on whether Bush had needed that congressional authorization, Romney said, "You know, we're going to let the lawyers sort out what he needed to do and what he didn't need to do. But, certainly, what you want to do is to have the agreement of all the people -- leadership of our government as well as our friends around the world where those circumstances are available."
The Giuliani campaign attacked this answer as weak.
"Going to war is the most serious decision a president can make," said Adm. Robert J. Natter, former commander in chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and an adviser to Giuliani. "Lawyers should not debate while our national security is on the line. In these momentous decisions, we need leadership, not litigation."
Thompson, Paul Get In on the Act
Aides to former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson also challenged the Romney response, telling the National Review's Byron York after the debate, "When it comes to our nation's security, it will be our generals that Fred Thompson sits down with first, not our attorneys."
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Giuliani and Thompson were "obviously making a blatant attempt to try to distort the governor's position. The governor offered the most direct assessment of the president's prerogative to take military action to protect the nation."
Madden said that "the question that was posed to him was a legal hypothetical which he moved quickly past, on to the need to protect American from any threat. The governor made very clear that the question of authorization was secondary to the need to protect Americans from any threat. He said it's unacceptable to this country would allow Ahmadinejad to have control of a nuclear weapon. He offered the strongest response of anybody up there."
During the debate Romney's response was immediately attacked by Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who said "this idea of going and talking to attorneys totally baffles me. Why don't we just open up the Constitution and read it? You're not allowed to go to war without a declaration of war."
Sensing an opening on Wednesday morning, however, the Giuliani campaign began criticizing the comment, comparing Romney's response to comments made by "another Massachusetts politician," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in 2004, when the Democratic presidential nominee said that the United States would have to pass "the global test" before going to war "to prove to the world that you did it for legitimate reasons."
Giuliani leads among GOP presidential candidates in national polls but Romney is ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire, sites of the first caucus and primary, respectively.