Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did a hastily arranged series of interviews on national television Friday in an attempt to stem the political damage from a week-long barrage of attacks from President Obama and his reelection campaign suggesting he has lied to the American public about when he left the helm of Bain Capital.
In interviews with five television networks, Romney called the attacks undignified and demanded an apology from Obama.
“I think this kind of statement from the Obama team is really shocking. It’s ridiculous and it’s beneath the dignity of the presidency,” he told CBS News. “... But what [Obama] wants to do is try and divert any attention from his lack of success, and frankly, it’s beneath the dignity of his office. He ought to apologize for what he’s doing.”
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Romney also reiterated his intention to release no further tax returns other than those he filed for 2010 and an estimate for 2011. “I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more,” he told CNN. “And you know, we’re putting out what is required, plus more than is required. And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances.”
Early on Friday afternoon, the Romney campaign called a series of five-minute interviews with the news staffs of Fox, CNN, CBS, ABC, and NBC as part of a damage-control effort that is sure to last at least several more days.
The likely Republican nominee was hit this week by a barrage of news stories raising questions about whether he left Bain, as he has claimed, in February 1999, after which the investment firm made a number of deals involving companies with offshore operations that had an impact on U.S. job losses. However, some articles, including pieces that ran in The Washington Post and on the Fortune website, detailed government documents which support Romney’s claim that he left the firm to take the helm of the Olympics from 1999 to 2002.
The Obama campaign, seizing on the issue, escalated its Bain attacks on Thursday when Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter said Romney might be “misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony.”
Romney told CNN, the first network to air its interview: “I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999, not that that would have been a problem. I left in February of 1999 to go out and run the Olympics. I went out and did that full-time, relinquished all management authority and role in Bain Capital after [that date].”
The Romney campaign put out reams of information this week disputing the Obama camp’s claims. The candidate’s newly-aggressive position won him praise from conservatives, who have grumbled that Romney needed to quickly and decisively answer the charges.
In the interviews, Romney rebutted the claims point by point. He also attempted to explain the end of his time at Bain, drawing a subtle contrast between ownership and management of the firm’s many investments. “I was an owner, and being a shareholder doesn’t mean that you’re running the business," he told CNN.
Then, in the CBS interview, Romney was asked by reporter Jan Crawford, “How should we be thinking about this? What was your role? You were the sole owner until 2002?”
He replied: “I was the owner of the general partnership, but there were investors which included pension funds and various entities of all kinds that owned, if you will, the investments of the firm. But I was the owner of an entity which was a management entity. That entity was one which I had ownership of until the time the retirement program was put in place. But I had no responsibility whatsoever after February of '99 for the management or ownership--management rather, of Bain Capital.”
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Romney did not officially retire from the firm until he left the Olympics job.
He also addressed an apparently valid claim that he had served on the board of Staples, the office supply giant, while heading the Olympics. However, Romney said that by that time, Bain Capital was no longer involved in the company.
“Bain Capital had already sold its shares or distributed its shares in Staples,” he told CNN. “And so my involvement with Staples was entirely on a personal basis. I continued to be involved with the firm, but it was as a fiduciary for Staples, not as a representative of Bain Capital, because Bain Capital had no further interest in Staples at that point.”
He bristled at claims that his reluctance to release more of his tax records indicates a lack of transparency. “Well, you know, the lack of transparency that I think we saw from the White House in the last couple of weeks has really been quite disturbing,” he told CBS, citing the president’s assertion of executive privilege over documents related to the investigation of Attorney General Eric Holder and the “fast and furious” gun-running scandal.
Obama, speaking to ABC in an interview taped earlier on Friday, insisted there was evidence Romney had not given up the reins at Bain in 1999.
“My understanding is that Mr. Romney attested to the SEC, multiple times, that he was the chairman, CEO, and president of Bain Capital, and I think most Americans figure if you are the chairman, CEO, and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does,” Obama said, according to a transcript of the interview.
Romney was also asked about a story on the Drudge Report website that he may be considering former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as his running mate. Romney declined to comment, but he did indicate he might like to distance himself from the last Republican president.
“Particularly with regards to our domestic policy right now, what we have to do to get this economy going is very different than what happened under prior presidencies, President Bush," he told CNN.
Jackie Koszczuk contributed