Romney: 'A day of shame' for Obama if Chen reports are true

Mitt Romney provided a blistering critique of the Obama administration's handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng on Thursday, saying if reports from China "are true, this is a dark day for freedom. And it's a day of shame for the Obama administration."

Chen, a blind dissident who had sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, wants to leave China with his family, the State Department confirmed early Thursday. 

But under a deal reached with Chinese authorities, Chen was to remain in a university town near Beijing and get regular check-ins with U.S. diplomats. Chen now says he only left the embassy because he felt his life was in danger and that he still wants to leave China, leading to howls from Republican lawmakers who say the administration has bungled its handling of the situation.

Romney largely echoed that sentiment in remarks while campaigning in Virginia, saying it appeared that State Department officials "may have sped up the process of his decision to leave the embassy."

The presumptive Republican nominee accused the State Department of putting Chen at risk to smooth over diplomatic relations ahead of visits from Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonObama intel chief wonders if Trump is trying to make 'Russia great again' Trump Jr., Manafort reach deal to avoid public hearing next week House Intel panel to interview Kushner amid Russia probe MORE and Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner.

"We should stand up and defend freedom wherever it is under attack," Romney said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney referred questions Thursday to the State Department, which said Chen "had a change of heart" about remaining in China. Neither the White House nor the State Department has signaled whether they will attempt to help Chen flee the country.

Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador to China, said Chen did not ask to leave the country.

"We engineered almost a maneuver out of 'Mission Impossible' to bring him in to the embassy, provided all the medical care that he needed," Locke said in an interview with CBS News. 

"But from day one, he said that he wanted to stay in China. He was not interested in going to the United States, [and said] that he wanted to be reunified with his family and that he wanted an investigation of the abuses that he had suffered, he and his family had suffered, in the village."

On Capitol Hill, Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteOPINION: Democracy will send ISIS to the same grave as communism Kelly Ayotte joins defense contractor's board of directors Week ahead: Comey firing dominates Washington MORE (R-N.H.) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamBusiness pressure ramps up against Trump's Ex-Im nominee Senators who have felt McCain's wrath talk of their respect for him McCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty MORE (R-S.C.) have called for a resolution urging the president to grant Chen and his family asylum in the United States.