One staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was responsible for the statement and tweets Tuesday that have become grist for the presidential campaign, and that staffer ignored explicit State Department instructions not to issue the statement, one U.S. official close to the issue told The Cable…
President Obama commented on the controversy in an interview to be aired Wednesday evening on 60 Minutes.
“In an effort to cool the situation down, it didn’t come from me, it didn’t come from Secretary Clinton. It came from people on the ground who are potentially in danger,” Obama said. “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.”
But Obama’s remarks belie the enormous frustration of top officials at the State Department and White House with the actions of the man behind the statement, Cairo senior public affairs officer Larry Schwartz, who wrote the release and oversees the embassy’s Twitter feed, according to a detailed account of the Tuesday’s events…
Before issuing the press release, Schwartz cleared it with just one person senior to himself, Deputy Chief of Mission Marc Sievers, who was the acting charge d’affairs at the embassy on Tuesday because Ambassador Anne Patterson was in Washington at the time, the official said.
Schwartz sent the statement to the State Department in Washington before publishing and the State Department directed him not to post it without changes, but Schwartz posted it anyway.
“The statement was not cleared with anyone in Washington. It was sent as ‘This is what we are putting out,'” the official said. “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.'”…
Despite being aware of Washington’s objections, the embassy continued to defend the statement for several hours, fueling the controversy over it, a decision the official again attributed to Schwartz.
“Not only did they push out the statement but they continued to engage on Twitter and retweet it,” the official said. “[Schwartz] would have been the one directing folks to engage on Twitter on this.”
Is Obama’s response really going to be “cut folks a little bit of slack?” So far, yes:
Despite his disregard of Washington’s instructions and his actions throughout the day Tuesday, Schwartz has not yet been disciplined in any way and is still the lead public affairs officer at the embassy.
“He remains at post at the same capacity as he was,” the official said.
That’s simply not acceptable. If issuing and repeatedly defending an unauthorized statement in the name of the United States government that condemns “those who abuse the universal right of free speech” isn’t enough to get a diplomat in trouble, what exactly would be? This was a statement that went well beyond distancing the embassy from a YouTube video that caused offense; it was an attack on First Amendment principles. The potential danger on the ground (which, remember, became more acute after the statement was issued) is no excuse.
If is the Obama administration is at all serious about defending American values, Larry Schwartz must be fired.