Timeline: How Romney Decided to Double Down

The timeline of events at the American embassies in Cairo and Benghazi offers insights into two key things: Whether the White House's first response was really to apologize to attackers and how Mitt Romney decided to attack the response.

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The timeline of events at the American embassies in Cairo and Benghazi offers insights into two key things: Whether the White House's first response was really to apologize to attackers and how Mitt Romney decided to attack the response. The Cairo embassy's statement condemning an anti-Islam movie was issued before protests started outside its walls and before U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens died in an attack on the consulate in Libya. Romney knew a State Department worker had died when he personally approved a statement condemning the Obama administration for apologizing, but he didn't know the ambassador had been killed.

All times are in eastern time. Cairo is six hours ahead.

4:53 a.m.: With controversy growing over an anti-Islam movie, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweets, "Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy."

Early morning: Cairo senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz wrote a longer statement about the film and sent it to the State Department in Washington, Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reports. The State Department responded that he should not post it without edits.

6:11 a.m.: Schwartz posted the statement anyway and tweets a link to it.

Around 11 a.m.: Protests begin outside the embassy in Cairo.

12:45 p.m.: Protesters breach the embassy.

Sometime that afternoon: Romney sees the embassy statement and gets upset. "When aides showed it to him, they said he reacted strongly to the notion of 'hurt' religious feelings," The New York Times' Peter Baker and Ashley Parker report. "Already on the defensive for not mentioning Afghanistan in his convention speech and losing some ground in recent polls, Mr. Romney saw an opportunity to draw a stark contrast." The New Republic's Noam Scheiber spoke to a former aide to Romney on his 2008 campaign -- who isn't working on this campaign and has no inside knowledge -- and the aide said Romney was "primed" to attack after Democrats said he was weak on foreign policy at their convention last week. "They set him up Thursday night at the convention with the smack down on foreign policy," the former adviser told Scheiber. "They called him naïve, Palin-esque. Then he got his back up about it and was waiting for opportunity to show, 'I'm strong, too.'"

6:30 p.m.: According to Rogin, Schwartz tweets that the embassy still stands by the statement.

7:45 p.m.: The State Department says a Foreign Service worker has been killed in Benghazi, CNN reports.

About 8 p.m.: Romney's aides recommend he make a statement, The Washington Post reports. Aides are unanimous: "We were all in agreement that it was appropriate for the governor to say something, and we were all in agreement in terms of what he should say," a Romney official told the Post. They know a State Department employee had died in Libya, but not that it was the ambassador.

On a four-hour flight from Reno to Jacksonville, Florida, Romney's aides work on the statement, The New York Times reports. Staffers working on it include policy director Lanhee Chen, ; foreign policy adviser Richard Williamson, and campaign strategist Stuart Stevens.

Romney personally reads the statement and approves it. It says:

"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."

10:10 p.m.: Romney's campaign emails a statement to reporters embargoed until midnight because of the political attack truce during the 9/11 anniversary.

10:25 p.m.: Romney's campaign emails reporters saying the embargo is lifted.

September 12, 12:09 a.m.: Obama's campaign emails reporters attacking Romney for politicizing an international tragedy.

6:18 a.m.: Ambassador Christopher Stevens is reported to be among the dead.

7:22 a.m.: The White House issues a statement saying Stevens and three other embassy staffers were killed.

Around 9:30 a.m.: Romney's campaign starts pulling down festive decorations for a campaign event in Jacksonville, Florida. Aides "removed the signs and erected a blue curtain that covered the patriotic bunting," The Washington Post's Philip Rucker reports. "Four American flags were posted behind the wooden lectern where Romney would speak. Aides escorted supporters outside to wait on the sidewalk…"

10 a.m.: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gives a speech about Stevens' death.

10:16 a.m.: Romney gives a press conference doubling down on his criticism. He talks about both Cairo and Benghazi:  "the attacks in Libya and Egypt under score that the world remains a dangerous place and that American leadership is still sorely needed." He stands by his claim that Obama's first response to the attacks was to say he's sorry to attackers: "The statement that came from the administration was a statement which is akin to apology and I think was a severe miscalculation."

10:43 a.m.: Obama gives a speech about Stevens' death. He takes no questions.

Update: Wednesday evening: As New York's Coscarelli points out, The New York Times first posted a version of the story that included someone from Romney's own campaign criticizing his statement. The original story said:

And as an adviser to the campaign who worked in the George W. Bush administration said on Wednesday, Mr. Romney’s accusation that Mr. Obama had invited the attacks because he had weakened America looked like "he had forgotten the first rule in a crisis: don’t start talking before you understand what’s happening."

That's been deleted from Thursday morning's version.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.