The campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called the Obama administration's handling of a violent and contentious day at two American facilities in the Middle East "disgraceful" in a statement released late Tuesday night.
The campaign had initially planned to hold the statement until after midnight -- and the end of the eleventh anniversary of September 11th -- but lifted the embargo an hour and a half early as the controversy flared over a series of attacks against the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"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 in the statement. "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."
The two diplomatic outposts had been the site of violent protests on Tuesday evening, as fundamentalist mobs swarmed in rage over rumors about an unreleased American film -- promoted in part by the Koran-burning preacher Terry Jones -- that supposedly projected the Prophet Muhammad in a harshly critical light.
Protesters breached the wall of the embassy in Cairo and burned an American flag on its grounds before replacing it with an Islamic banner. In Benghazi, a mob driven by the Islamist militant group Ansar al Sharia rampaged through the American consulate, firing at least one rocket-propelled grenade, according to the Wall Street Journal. At least one American staffer was killed in the violence.
The violence took a domestic political turn, in part thanks to a statement released early Tuesday by the staff of the Cairo embassy, which condemned the film and the "continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."
The Romney campaign's statement seemed to be an attempt to capitalize on the appearance that the Obama administration -- which has overseen the Arab Spring, and the rise of Islamist governments in both Egypt and Libya -- was capitulating to the sensitivities of an unruly Muslim crowd, rather than backing the right of an American citizen to release a disrespectful film.
But the statement criticized by the Romney campaign came early in the day, before the attacks on the two embassies, and was put out not by the White House, but by the Cairo embassy itself.
The White House later disavowed the statement as not approved by Washington, according to a senior administration official speaking to Politico.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt also commented on the statement from the Romney campaign. “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,” LaBolt said in a statement.
In a statement released late Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack on the mission in Benghazi "in the strongest" terms, and added that while the U.S. "deplores" the denigration of religion depicted in the film, it would not countenance such violent responses.
"Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet," Clinton said. "The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind."
The Libyan government also released a statement condemning the attack on the American Consulate, calling it a "cowardly act." And the Muslim Brotherhood, the ruling Islamist party in Egypt, said on its Twitter page that that it "regret the attacks on [the U.S. Embassy] by angry protesters, and we urge citizens to express their opinion peacefully."
This story has been updated to include a statement from Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt.
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