President Obama offered a blistering critique of his Republican challenger Wednesday, questioning Mitt Romney's judgment after the GOP nominee criticized the administration’s initial response to violence in the Middle East that culminated in the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya.
Obama said his opponent had “a tendency to shoot first and aim later,” and he suggested it was unbecoming for someone seeking the nation’s highest office.
"There's a broader lesson to be learned here," Obama told CBS News. "And I think — you know, Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and aim later. And as president, one of the things I've learned is you can't do that. That, you know, it's important for you to make sure that the statements that you make are backed up by the facts. And that you've thought through the ramifications before you make 'em."
Romney said that the statement amounted to an apology for American values.
“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,” Romney said in a statement released shortly before the end of the day Tuesday.
But the statement from the embassy was issued some five hours before protesters began gathering outside. And, in additional excerpts of the CBS interview provided by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, President Obama seized on this apparent inconsistency to slam Romney.
"I think most Americans, Democrats or Republicans, understand that there are times where we set politics aside, and one of those is when we've got a direct threat to American personnel who are overseas," the president said. "And so I think that if you look at how most Republicans have reacted, most elected officials, they've reacted responsibly, waiting to find out the facts before they talked, making sure that our number-one priority is the safety and security of American personnel."
But, Obama said, it appeared Romney "didn't have his facts right."
"The situation in Cairo was one in which an embassy that is being threatened by major protests releases a press release saying that the film that had disturbed so many Muslims around the world wasn’t representative of what Americans believe about Islam, in an effort to cool the situation down," Obama said. "It didn’t come from me, it didn’t come from Secretary Clinton; it came from folks on the ground who are potentially in danger."
The president then took direct aim at Romney, accusing his opponent of having politicized the attack.
"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," Obama said.
But Romney doubled down on the criticism at a hastily arraigned press conference Wednesday morning, and advisers — noting the White House had worked to distance itself from the embassy statement — accused the president of "mixed messages" and "hypocrisy."
"I also believe the administration was wrong to stand by a statement sympathizing with those who had breached our embassy in Egypt instead of condemning their actions," Romney said. "It's never too early for the United States government to condemn attacks on Americans and defend our values."
In additional excerpts provided by the White House, Obama emphasizes his support for First Amendment rights — and defends the content of the statement from the embassy.
"We believe in the First Amendment. It is one of the hallmarks of our Constitution that I’m sworn to uphold, and so we are always going to uphold the rights for individuals to speak their mind," Obama said. "On the other hand, this film is not representative of who we are and our values, and I think it's important for us to communicate that. That's never an excuse for violence against Americans, which is why my number-one priority — and my initial statement — focused on making sure that not only are Americans safe, but that we go after anybody who would attack Americans.”
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Later in the press briefing en route to Las Vegas, Carney said the president has spoken with family members of those who lost their lives in the attacks.
"On all these calls, he has offered his condolences and made clear that his thoughts and prayers and the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the family members of those we lost," Carney said. "He thanked the family members for the service to their country that Ambassador Stevens and Mr. Smith provided, and made clear his commitment that justice be done when it comes to finding out who was responsible for the attacks that led to their deaths."
Carney also said he did not want to speculate if the attacks were premeditated or coordinated.
"It's too early for us to make that judgment," Carney said. "I know that this is being investigated, and we're working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident. So I would not want to speculate on that at this time."
— This story was originally posted at 4:41 p.m. and updated at 6:27 p.m.