In a bid to defend Mitt Romney from the political fallout over the embassy attacks in Egypt and Libya, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) admitted on Thursday that he was unaware of the sequence of events that unfolded in the incident that ultimately claimed four American lives.
"I think most Americans would look at that and say gosh, that's not the appropriate response when your embassy was assaulted, when the American flag is taken down and two Islamic flags put up over American territory," Portman said in an interview with CBS "This Morning."
"So the statement was very clear," he continued, referring to Romney's highly criticized attack on President Barack Obama and his administration. "It just said, the American government ought not to be issuing an apology. We ought to be condemning these attacks."
The Republican presidential nominee came under fire for accusing the Obama administration of issuing a public apology for the anti-Islamic video that sparked the protests. But the statement in question, which came from the U.S. embassy in Cairo without being cleared by the White House, was made prior to the start of the demonstrations.
When pressed on the issue, Portman acknowledged he did not know the embassy's statement had occurred before the attacks and was designed to preempt any violence from taking place.
"No, I was not aware that it was issued before there were any attacks," Portman said. "But I still think it implies that somehow these attacks could be justified by a video that the U.S. government had nothing to do with, that came out in July."
Despite host Norah O'Donnell's repeated attempts to underscore that confusing the order of events made Romney's statement seem "reckless," Portman continued to defend the GOP nominee and raise the larger point that the White House failed to appropriately condemn the attacks.
He also said Romney is not suggesting that Obama sympathizes with those who attacked the U.S. embassies, even though in his first response to the situation, Romney directly stated that the Obama administration was "sympathiz[ing] with those who waged the attacks."
Earlier in the morning, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also went after the president on foreign policy in an appearance on NBC's "Today" show. He refused to answer, however, when he was asked if Romney had jumped the gun in criticizing Obama in the wake of the attack. He later said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that there's a lack of leadership in the Middle East, and he hopes Romney "will be looking at the big picture."
“In the heat of the battle, you get all kinds of advice, you get all kinds of second-guessing,” McCain said, declining to criticize or defend his party's nominee. “I’m not prepared to do that.”
Romney and his campaign largely ignored the criticism he received for targeting the president amid an international crisis and reiterated their attack on multiple occasions Wednesday, including in a press conference held before Obama himself had commented on the issue.
"The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also from the words of his ambassadors, from his administration, from his embassies, from his State Department," Romney said.
Obama did not react to Romney's comments during his own statement on the attacks Wednesday morning, delivered from the Rose Garden at the White House, but later told CBS News that his challenger has "a tendency to shoot first and aim later."
"It appears that Governor Romney didn't have his facts right," Obama said. "The situation in Cairo was one in which an embassy that is being threatened by major protests releases a press release saying that the film that had disturbed so many Muslims around the world wasn't representative of what Americans believe about Islam."
"In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn't come from me, it didn't come from Secretary Clinton, it came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger," he added. "And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they're in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office."
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