In a statement Tuesday night, Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of sympathizing with the Libyan protesters who attacked a consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other American diplomats.
“I'm outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi," Romney said. "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's remarks came before the White House confirmed Wednesday morning that U.S. ambassador to Libya, John Christopher Stevens, was among those killed in the Benghazi attack.
Romney foreign policy adviser Rich Williamson told Foreign Policy magazine Tuesday evening, before the deaths were reported, that the attacks were related to Obama's "failure to be an effective leader for U.S. interests in the Middle East."
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt responded a few hours later that it was Romney who was out of line. “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, Governor Romney would choose to launch a political attack,” he said.
Protests in Egypt appear to have been sparked by clips of a film produced by Sam Bacile, a self-described California real estate developer. The film calls the prophet Muhammad a fraud and depicts him having sex; pieces of the film were put on YouTube and showed on a Cairo television station. The Libya attack appeared at first to be a related response, but Middle East analysts are now questioning the connection.*
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack "in the strongest terms," adding that while the United States “deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others ... there is never any justification for violent acts of this kind." Wednesday morning, Obama released his own statement condemning "the outrageous attack."
Hours before the embassy breach in Egypt and the attacks in Libya occurred, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying that it 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 statement was meant to prevent violence related to the movie; an administration official later told ABC News that "no one in Washington approved that statement before it was released and it doesn't reflect the views of the U.S. government." The statement still appears on the embassy website, but not on the homepage.
On Twitter Tuesday night, Romney spokesman Ryan Williams highlighted deleted tweets from the Cairo embassy account that condemned anti-Muslim bigotry and defended the statement.
— Ryan Williams (@RyanGOP) Sept. 12, 2012
A tweet sent after the breach declaring that "neither breaches of our compound or angry messages will dissuade us from defending freedom of speech AND criticizing bigotry" remains live.
* This post has been updated to reflect new reporting on the cause of the Libya attack.