A fascinating look at the inner workings of the Cairo embassy during Tuesday's riots shows just how badly their controversial statement about "religious feelings" was botched by diplomats in Egypt. Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy reports that not only was the controversial statement not cleared by the White House or the Secretary of State, it was actually rejected by the State Department, but was somehow posted to Twitter anyway.
While Mitt Romney has come in for a drubbing for his campaign's attempts to turn the statement into a political issue, it's important to underline that all of the diplomatic back-and-forth happened before protesters stormed the Cairo embassy and before the attack on the Benghazi consulate which resulted in the death of U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens. So while Romney and Obama may have been in agreement that the statement was inappropriate, it still does not address the conflation of events that Romney engaged in by saying, "The Obama administration's first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,"
One employee in particular, senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz, has been targeted for most of the blame. According to sources who spoke to Rogin, Schwartz wrote the statement and runs the embassy Twitter feed that continued to defend the comments even after criticism started to come in. Mitt Romney and other Republicans lambasted the statement — which said they "reject the actions" that "hurt the religious beliefs of others" — as an attack on free speech that was sympathetic to the rioters. That earned them their own amount of grief, as you know.
Schwartz drafted the statement before the demonstrations actually began and then showed it to one of his superiors, Deputy Chief of Mission Marc Sievers. The ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson was not in Cairo; she was in Washington and was not at the embassy during any of the protests. Schwartz then forwarded the statement to the State Department in Washington and was specifically told by officials there that it was not acceptable and it shouldn't be posted without "major revisions." An official based in Washington said, "The next email we received from Embassy Cairo was ‘We just put this out.'"
Why Schwartz chose to ignore the orders of the State Department is anyone's guess, but he continued to defend it on Twitter even after the protests escalated, eventually forcing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to step in and deliver her own comments. Other anonymous officials said there was "a lot of anger" at Cairo and the statement itself, which was described as "tone deaf." It was never officially retracted, but after Romney's attributed the comments to the President himself, the White House and the campaign rushed to make it clear that the statement wasn't approved by anyone in Washington.
Neither the State Department, the Cairo Embassy, nor Schwartz had any official comment on the matter, but according to Rogin, Schwartz still has his job and has not been disciplined.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.