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January 20, 2012 8:00 AM Romney again stumbles on hidden tax returns

By Steve Benen

In Monday night’s debate, Mitt Romney stumbled badly when asked if he’d release his tax returns. The obvious dissembling was painful to watch: “[Y]ou know, if that’s been the tradition and I’m not opposed to doing that, time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I’ll keep that open.”

After several days in which Romney’s hidden returns have generated increased attention, he had to know it would be a major topic of conversation in last night’s debate. And yet, the Republican frontrunner stumbled yet again.

Pay particular attention to what happens around the 5:05 mark in this clip: Romney was actually booed and heckled by the Republican audience, which was apparently exasperated by the former governor’s evasiveness.

After having several days to come up with the best possible answer, Romney began by saying he’ll “probably” release the tax materials from previous years, and then explained why, at least for now, he prefers secrecy and non-disclosure:

“I know that’s what’s going to come. Every time the Democrats are out there trying their very best to — to try and attack people because they’ve been successful. And — and I have been successful.”

In other words, Romney wants to hide information from the public to prevent people from learning the truth and criticizing him. He said the exact same thing in December when asked why he purged his gubernatorial administration’s email records in advance of his presidential campaign — Romney admitted the move was intended to hide official correspondence from the public and keep potentially-embarrassing information from “opposition research” teams.

This is ridiculous on its face. A candidate who preaches transparency shouldn’t be able to keep records secret just because people might be mean to him. Scrutiny and criticism is supposed to be part of the process, making Romney’s answer rather pathetic.

CNN’s John King reminded Romney that his father released 12 years of returns and asked if he’d meet his father’s standard. The Republican frontrunner responded, “Maybe,” and then proceeded to dissemble a bit more.

Newt Gingrich, who released his returns during the debate, told the audience, “[I]f there’s anything in there that is going to help us lose the election, we should know it before the nomination. And if there’s nothing in there, why not release it?”

The fact that Romney still can’t answer that question coherently should be of great concern to Republican voters. The fact that Romney has suddenly forgotten how to be a competent debater should be of great concern to his Republican supporters.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • berttheclock on January 20, 2012 8:08 AM:

    Poor John King - All of his efforts to elect John McCain have gone to waste.

  • c u n d gulag on January 20, 2012 8:11 AM:

    Well, at least the Republicans are being consistent, and applying their particular brand of BS to one of their own.

    Remember when we first found out that Little Boots Bush was spying on everyone, and they said, "Well, if you've got nothing to hide, then you've got nothing to worry about."

    So, Mitt - in the words of Conservatives to all of us whining and pesky Liberals, looking out for privacy rights, "Well, if you've had nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about."

    I think he's worried about the American people finding out he pays more in banking fees to the Cayman Islands than he does to the IRS.

    And no, I didn't watch the debates last night.
    I'd sooner dip my head in molten lava to see how long I can hold by breath under it, than watch these idiots.

    One of these KKK Performance Artists has a pretty reasonable chance of being our next President.

    Never, ever, underestimate the stupidity, ignorance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia of the average American voter.

    Oh, and then throw some Jesus into that mix.

  • troglodyte on January 20, 2012 8:12 AM:

    Pay No Attention to the Tax Returns Behind the Curtain!!!

  • walt on January 20, 2012 8:17 AM:

    You might think the leading candidate for the GOP nomination to sanitize the less seemly parts of his record BEFORE he runs for president. Yet either out of greed or dumbness, Romney wouldn't. This is the first major gaffe of the 2012 campaign. It could potentially cripple Romney before he's even finished introducing himself to the American public.

  • Rick Taylor on January 20, 2012 8:17 AM:

    "The fact that Romney has suddenly forgotten how to be a competent debater should be of great concern to his Republican supporters."

    So what are they going to do now? Select Newt Gingrich? Santorum? Ron Paul? I'm so glad I'm not a Republican.

  • Brenna on January 20, 2012 8:27 AM:

    I watched most of the debate last night (without puking). But I thought Romney's performance was shaky at best; he was defensive, stumbled on answers, and displayed his usual stiff, odd demeanor.

    But I was really perplexed when Howard Fineman and Joe Klein reported that Romney had a solid performance. And they didn't think he hurt himself inspite of the tax return debacle. Maybe they meant from the SC voter perspective.

    In the national election, Romney or Gingrich will be a disaster. Gingrich's vicious,nasty attacking won't serve him well against a calm, rational and intelligent Obama.

  • johnny canuck on January 20, 2012 8:27 AM:

    As i understand it the tax return issue will be like pulling on a loose thread of a poorly knitted garment. The experts are going to say that one really can't evaluate his tax avoidance schemes without going back to the time he started Bain capital. this is going to be painful for Mitt and fun for sadists to watch.

    I also think i heard Mitt say he didn't inherit from his father. I had previously heard he received $1 million. This may be another case of tone deafness, a mere million is so small as to be forgettable.

  • Marko on January 20, 2012 8:30 AM:

    Romney's boxed in and he knows it. It's just amazing he didn't have a plan for this 5 years ago.

  • bigtuna on January 20, 2012 8:51 AM:

    I have not been able to figure out why he won't release, but Johnny C has a starting point, and I bet there is a mormon angle too. The fear must be that once the thread starts to come off, it will lead to all sorts of crafty dodges, and to Bain, and maybe to the fact that Willard's version of his 10% to the LDS church will be less than the 10% of his actual income, thereby also embarassing him to his church. But mostly, I bet there are a bunch of bainians who don't want their dirty secrets revealed.

  • navamske on January 20, 2012 8:51 AM:

    "And -- and I have been successful."

    Yeah, excellent job of being born into a privileged family. You're a credit to fetuses everywhere.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 20, 2012 8:52 AM:

    Ok, I know Mittbot is a bit of scumbag and all, but why can't he just stick to one defense to the tax returns question? If he thinks it's none of our gosh-darn business, say so and give a somewhat reasonable defense of why hw nor any other presidential nominee should release their returns. If he intends to release prior years' returns only but only on in April, say so and move on to the next question.

    ...But, then again, we are talking about the flippity-floppiest, non-committal GOP nominee to ever grace the national stage. It's not that the Mittbot doesn't have any answers to many obvious questions, per se. He has plenty of answers, but they're all in the form of "if asked x now, then answer "a" now", or "If asked very same "x" later, answer "b" later...". Were I a betting woman, I'd bet that the Mittbot's not committing to either releasing those returns or not now because he's waiting for the opportunity to not commit later... In other words, he's waiting for another opportunity to flip the flop on the American people (or the GO-sheeple, at least).

  • Oh my on January 20, 2012 8:52 AM:

    What should be of even greater concern to Republican voters is the fact that Romney usually finishes a sentence by contradicting the start of his sentence.

  • SKM on January 20, 2012 8:58 AM:

    Johnny Canuck,
    Here is where Romney says he got seed money, "Governor Romney's Remark at the Miami-Dade Lincoln Day Dinner," http://www.cfr.org/us-election-2008/governor-romneys-remarks-miami-dade-lincoln-day-dinner/p13480 this has a transcript of his speech. Afterwards, look up the name Ricardo Poma - this guy supposed to have involvement in the squads in El Salvador.

    I didn't watch the debates either. Again, I am not a fan of CNN. But, I did hear how Gingrich 'went off' on King. I laughed, because, since the Bush administration, these television people have been letting the republicans control the interview. BTW, if I owned a television station, I'd make it off limits to republican candidates with this type of behavior they have towards the host of the show, as well as being disrespectful towards what little viewers they have remaining.

    I also heard that Willard (gee, this is so funny, this is the name of a movie "Willard," where the man taught his rats how to attack people he didn't like - don't know if this movie came before "Ben," or not). But, heard Willard said that "they don't want someone from the street." The answer is no, we don't want someone from "Wall Street."

    If Willard said this, this is funny. Cynthia McKenny, Alan Grayson are from the street. To take it further, rapper Machine Gun Kelly, Eminem, and the Walberg brothers are from the street. As far as I know, Willard grew up in Bloomfield Hills Michigan, which was a well to do suburb. Oh, and Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre is from the street. Heck, even Sean Penn and the Baldwin brothers are more street than Willard, LOL!

  • hells littlest angel on January 20, 2012 9:01 AM:

    Did Palin serve as his debate coach?

  • j on January 20, 2012 9:12 AM:

    I think the republicans are going to push for Romney no matter what. They do not like him but I am sure the plan is
    to run Christie as VP. Christie will then call the shots
    just as Cheney did when they elected George Bush. Romney will be what he always was, an empty suit.

  • SadOldVet on January 20, 2012 9:17 AM:

    re Brenna...

    But I was really perplexed when Howard Fineman and Joe Klein reported that Romney had a solid performance. And they didn't think he hurt himself inspite of the tax return debacle. Maybe they meant from the SC voter perspective.

    No, they meant it from the perspective of highly paid 'performance artists' employed by the corporately owned media who want to keep their lucrative positions and dare not criticize the candidate of the 1/10 of 1%ers.

  • johnny canuck on January 20, 2012 9:26 AM:

    j: "Romney will be what he always was, an empty suit."

    This doesn't compute any more for Romney than it does for Obama. Romney was able to create a huge personal fortune, by convincing other people to trust him with their money.
    It is a far more complex problem.
    I think it may be that as a CEO used to getting his own way, he is unable to deal with opposition to what he wants to do. Surely he has had staffers telling him for at least 5 years that he would have to publish his tax returns in a presidential campaign. He must never have believed that he would actually have to do it, and just refused to listen.

  • Just Dropping By on January 20, 2012 9:28 AM:

    but I am sure the plan is to run Christie as VP.

    If Romney is the nominee there's no chance in hell that he picks Christie as VP -- two North Eastern governors with weak SoCon credentials? Republican enthusiasm would be so low that Obama would win Georgia if that was the GOP ticket.

  • chopin on January 20, 2012 9:32 AM:

    Willard is dodging and weaving and fully expecting to defuse the issue by releasing his sanitized 2011 tax return in April just like he will claim he promised. I think it was Ron Paul who said last night that he wasn't interested in that tax return. What he really wanted to see were his tax returns for the years he was at Bain. I think the Dems should be all over this with a whisper campaign that money has been wired to off shore accounts to avoid paying taxes.

  • Crusty the Clown on January 20, 2012 9:38 AM:

    Uh, like I said a couple of weeks ago, maybe the Mittster is paying zero percent on his taxes - heck, he could even have a negative tax rate. Can't have that come out, now can we?

  • anon on January 20, 2012 9:42 AM:

    "you're just jellus" is not an election strategy, Mittens

  • SKM on January 20, 2012 9:54 AM:

    I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest why he will NOT produce tax returns, and if he does, they will be fake. Look at the membership rolls of Trilateral Commission (the do have a website) and Council on Foreign Relations. With Trilateral Commission, I think it was the plan to consolidate world banking...I don't want to come off sounding like an idiot, but, these members are capitalists and it's a group of European, Japanese, and North American businesses/people. Look at the site to make your own decision.

  • bigtuna on January 20, 2012 9:55 AM:

    I think the problems will be several once the tax returns are revealed. For exa., the press already has shown that the guy still gets profit from Bain and their investments, even though he doesn't work there:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/19/us/politics/retirement-deal-keeps-bain-money-flowing-to-romney.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all


    Not a retirement package, mind you, but a cut of the goods. I bet there are 20-100 such deals, and a fun thing to watch would be the drip drip drip of one to two stories /day revealing these things.

  • James Conner on January 20, 2012 10:46 AM:

    Romney's debating style is that of a slightly guilty man being questioned by a constable who Mitt thinks lacks the moral right to interrogate a rich man.

  • bdop4 on January 20, 2012 12:44 PM:

    Romney is the poster boy for the 0.1%, and his returns are a blueprint for what they have done to us over the past 30 years. Mitt (and by extension the GOP) thought they could distract voters with some fancy footwork, but too many people are hurting right now to listen to his BS.

    Payback's a bitch, ain't it Mitt?

  • treetop on January 20, 2012 12:58 PM:

    I loved this line from Romney: "My taxes are carefully managed."

    His and Thurston Howell's!

  • Rick Massimo on January 20, 2012 1:12 PM:

    �[Y]ou know, if that�s been the tradition and I�m not opposed to doing that, time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I�ll keep that open.�

    Gee, I'm so glad that embarrassingly awful debater Rick Perry left the race. The smooth, polished moderate Mitt Romney is so much better.

  • Jon Stewart on January 20, 2012 3:36 PM:

    Since this slouch just stated he "made it on his own" and "didn't inherit money from his parents", I'd like to see proof of THAT.
    While there is ample reason for him to cringe as he exposes the unfair tax advantages he has, and proves his disconnect with the American people, I feel 100%confident accusing him of being a liar... that the statement of his non-inheritance is worth calling him on, and that he was clear enough in that statement that he can't back-track and rephrase it.

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