After saying earlier that Sept. 11 was not the day to criticize President Obama on foreign policy matters, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney late Tuesday issued a statement blasting the Obama administration for a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo expressing what it characterized as sympathy for Muslims upset by anti-Muslim activity in the United States.
Then, in a press briefing Wednesday morning in Jacksonsville, Fla., Romney intensified that criticism, saying the embassy's statement was "akin to an apology" and "disgraceful."
However, the Obama administration maintains that the embassy statement was issued before the compound came under attack by protesters and four American diplomats were killed, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Obama reelection campaign spokesman Lis Smith said, "The embassy had not yet been breached when they (the embassy) issued the statement he’s criticizing. His first answer was wrong."
The U.S. Embassy's statement early on Tuesday condemned an anti-Muslim video being promoted by Gainesville, Fla., pastor Terry Jones, who earlier had threatened to burn more than 200 copies of the Koran. The video reportedly mocks Islam's founding prophet Muhammad and was bound to inflame Muslims.
"The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions," the embassy said in the statement, which was published online.
On Wednesday, after the magnitude of the events became clear, including the fact that the U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens had been killed, a White House official said Obama first learned of the violent protests in Benghazi Tuesday afternoon in a briefing by national security adviser Tom Donilon. The official said that took place during Obama's weekly meeting with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. Aides briefed Obama through the night and it was during one of these evening briefings that Obama learned Stevens was unaccounted for. The president learned of Stevens' death Wednesday morning, the official said.
Romney, in his statement late Tuesday, said he was “outraged” by attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. “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 the attacks,” Romney said.
About the same time as Romney's statement, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton strongly denounced the killing of an embassy official, whom she did not identify at that time. She said that the United States is committed to religious tolerance. "But let me be clear," she said in the statement. "There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
The Obama campaign also responded early on Wednesday, lambasting Romney for bringing politics into a tragedy. “We are shocked that, at a time when the United States of America is confronting the tragic death of one of our diplomatic officers in Libya, Gov. Romney would choose to launch a political attack," Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said in a statement.
Later Wednesday morning, after the administration confirmed the death of Stevens, Obama issued a statement strongly condemning what he called an "outrageous attack."
Romney has frequently accused Obama of traveling the world apologizing for America, and he published a book in 2010, No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. However, the Republican nominee’s accusation that his rival “began his presidency with an apology tour” earned him a “Pants on Fire” rating from PolitFact -- the fact-checking site’s lowest ranking for truthfulness.