Officials: Cairo Embassy Staffer Ignored Instructions Not to Release Statement

An Egyptian protester throws back a tear gas canister toward riot police, unseen, outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012. Tens were injured in clashes in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo, the state TV reported on Thursday, quoting Egypt's Health Ministry.    (National Journal)

A State Department official in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo ignored instructions not to release a statement on Tuesday denouncing religious intolerance, Foreign Policy reports.

The statement, which was an attempt to fend off protests against an anti-Islamic video created in the U.S., was released several hours before protests outside the embassy began, and has been used by Republicans to criticize the Obama administration for "apologizing" to the Arab world.

But U.S. officials told to Foreign Policy that the statement was created by Cairo senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz, who was told by Washington not to post the statement without changing the language. According to unnamed officials quoted in Foreign Policy, Schwartz ignored the instructions.

"The statement was not cleared with anyone in Washington," the official told FP. "It was sent as "˜This is what we are putting out.' We replied and said this was not a good statement and that it needed major revisions. The next email we received from Embassy Cairo was, "˜We just put this out.'"

The official said this led to heated discussions within the State Department and White House, even looping in Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"People at the highest levels both at the State Department and at the White House were not happy with the way the statement went down. There was a lot of anger both about the process and the content," the official told FP. "Frankly, people here did not understand it. The statement was just tone deaf. It didn't provide adequate balance. We thought the references to the 9/11 attacks were inappropriate, and we strongly advised against the kind of language that talked about "˜continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.'"

Even on Tuesday, administration officials tried to distance the White House from the statement.

"The statement by Embassy Cairo was not cleared by Washington and does not reflect the views of the United States government," an administration official told Politico.

The statement, in part, read, "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."

Mitt Romney has attacked President Obama over the statement, saying the first response to the breach of the embassy should have been outrage.

"The president takes responsibility not just for the words that come from his mouth but also for the words that come from his ambassadors from his administration, from his embassies, from the State Department," Romney said on Wednesday.

Although the White House agrees with the overall message that the statement conveys, Obama has also sought to distance himself from it.

"In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn't come from me, it didn't come from Secretary Clinton," Obama told CBS . "It came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger. 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."