By Justin Sink - 05/03/12 06:17 PM EDT
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.
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 Clinton 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 Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have called for a resolution urging the president to grant Chen and his family asylum in the United States.