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January 17, 2012 8:00 AM Romney stumbles on hidden tax returns

By Steve Benen

Mitt Romney tends to shine in Republican presidential debates in large part because he generally seems prepared. Putting aside whether his answers are truthful or sensible, the former governor’s answers are generally polished — he gives the appearance of someone who at least tried to do their homework.

It was bizarre, then, to see Romney stumble so badly when the issue of his hidden tax returns was raised during Fox News’ debate last night. Did he not realize the subject might come up?

The Wall Street Journals Kelly Evans said, “Governor Romney, Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum and now vocally tonight Governor Perry are calling for you to release your tax records. The Obama campaign is asking for the same thing. Governor, will you release your income tax records?” Here’s his response:

“You know, I looked at what has been done in campaigns in the past with Senator McCain and President George W. Bush and others. They have tended to release tax records in April or tax season. I hadn’t planned on releasing tax records because the law requires us to release all of our assets, all the things we own. That I have already released. It’s a pretty full disclosure. But, you 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.”

Evans followed up, asking if that means the tax records will be released around April. Romney added:

“I think I’ve heard enough from folks saying, look, let’s see your tax records. I have nothing in them that suggests there’s any problem and I’m happy to do so. I sort of feel like we are showing a lot of exposure at this point. And if I become our nominee, and what’s happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year and that’s probably what I would do.”

The transcript doesn’t do it justice. Romney appeared to be dissembling badly, and it wasn’t long before the DNC was using it against him, releasing this video overnight:

On the substance, Romney has said previously he would not release the tax returns. Last night seemed to offer a different answer, though it was hard to tell exactly what the frontrunner is now prepared to do. I think the bottom line is that Romney won’t rule it out, but won’t disclose anything until after GOP voters give him the party’s presidential nomination.

We can only speculate as to exactly why the former governor is so reluctant, but it’s a pretty safe bet that Romney doesn’t want the public to know he pays a lower tax rate than middle-class workers. Because Romney still collects seven-figure checks from his vulture-capitalist firm, he benefits from the “carried interest” loophole, which taxes private equity and venture capital income at a lower, 15% rate, as compared to 35% on ordinary income.

As we recently discussed, it creates a dynamic that Romney would prefer to downplay:

1. Mitt Romney is worth $250 million.

2. He got rich by laying off American workers.

3. He pays a lower tax rate than you and the rest of the middle class.

4. He wants to be president so he can keep it this way.

If last night was any indication, it’s a subject that makes Romney uncomfortable, but it’s not going away.

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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  • jlt on January 17, 2012 8:13 AM:

    mitt has had some big 'work' done! @wapo there is a pic leading to a video about Newt changing position on Health Care...mitt is found out and now I know why they call him plastic man! That would be not be a glass jaw but a sutured one!

    Think he stumbled last night but I find him a liar so am jaded!

  • j on January 17, 2012 8:16 AM:

    I( would like to know when we will start prosecuting people who keep their5 billions in off shore accounts to avoid US taxes while the rest of us pay out taxes. The republicans are so greedy they are destroying US schools and still giving tax cuts to the wealthy.

  • Squishy Mitt on January 17, 2012 8:16 AM:

    I may have to let the Dems know eventually, but I sure as heck am not telling the tea bagger rubes. I'm running for office, for Pete's sake, and I need some of their votes first.

  • Hedda Peraz on January 17, 2012 8:20 AM:

    I have hunted both Moose AND Elk, but my proudest moment was when I bagged a Rotarian. . .

  • walt on January 17, 2012 8:21 AM:

    Look for a furious counteroffensive today coming from hard-right field. "Make no mistake, my friends! They're really attacking capitalism when they attack Mitt Romney!" The GOP establishment is not going to let this get away from them. Romney has been bought and paid for. Last night's performance may have been a disaster but it's too late now. There's going to be so much spin for Romney today that it will look like a cyclone. As we often say here, pass the popcorn.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 17, 2012 8:35 AM:

    >> 4. He wants to be president so he can keep it this way.
    Steve, you're being very unfair to Romney. That's not his position at all.

    He wants to be president so he can make it even more tilted towards him and his class.

  • SKM on January 17, 2012 8:35 AM:

    Dang, spoken like a true-hard-core con artist. There is always conditions and strings attached with this man (Romney).

    1) if we elect him president he'd give us jobs. - well, dude (Romney), isn't it funny that you keep saying you know how to create jobs, yet, you're on the presidential employment line, look for who to hire you? I mean, wow, you claim you're unemployed, we're definitely unemployed and this is the best you can do.

    2) if he's the nominee he'll release his (phoney) tax returns. Oh, but, he can have his son say for Obama to release his birth certificate - oh yeah, Willard, where's yours?

    Let's see, it is reported he owns Sankaty Ltd. as sole shareholder, CEO - in this offshore fund.

    Paid $1 million dollars to rename building at BYU after family - www.desertnews.com 2-13-1998 "BYU renames building after $1 million dollar gift from Romney Family"

    L C Romney Baseball Park in Salt Lake, Utah as seen in the movie The Sandlot

    Romney Stadium at Utah State University named for Dick romney, (E.L. Dick Romney) but renamed in 2009 to Ernest Lowell Romney and G. Ott Romney

    Clear Channel Communications - which just recently gave Rush Limbush a $400 million dollar contract - so how does Romney give someone a paycheck that's more than he's worth?

    Gave son Tagg $10 million for start-up company of Solamere Capital LLC.

    Top 10 Billionaires of the world attend Private Equity at Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills Calif 5-2-2011 - which Romney attended, so I'm thinking he is hiding income.

    What I really want answers to, again, he appointed Judge kathe Tuttman who released a man (Daniel Tavares Jr.) that was convicted of killing his own mother. That man then moved to Graham Washington and killed newlywed couple Beverly 28, and Brian Mauck 30. This same judge was said to have botched a case when she was prosecutor that released a child rapist - Parra.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 17, 2012 8:38 AM:

    It is very unfair of Steve Benen to contribute to the democrat promotion of class warfare with this posting.

    It is unreasonable to expect Mitt to show his tax returns; even though doing so would show that he is just another middle class quarter-billionaire who worked his way up from the bottom after being born with only a multi-million dollar trust fund.

    Just like other ordinary Americans, Mitt should take every advantage of the tax code that he can. The carried interest change to tax code was purchased by hedge fund managers in 2002 and that makes it legal and it would be unseemly of Mitt to not take advantage of it.

    As a business leader, Mitt has shown that he is like all of the other real leaders of business and only engages in legal activities; even if he has to join other business leaders in buying changes to laws to make those activities legal.

    If it is legal, it is ok! Even if we have to buy changes to the laws and tax codes to make it so!

    As a political leader, Mitt Romney has shown that he will work hard to support the middle classes of this country. I believe that he will also work hard for the lower class composed of those who are only millionaires and multi-millionaires.

  • drinkof on January 17, 2012 8:52 AM:

    Romney's problem with releasing tax returns go much further. If he releases returns even no further back than 2009 (which he's obviously trying to avoid even the subject of by focusing on this year's), it will show the stupendous deal he got with Bain, apparently continuing to pay him $1million / month for the decade after he left them, while he was MA gov, while he was running in '08. Which opens him up to exploring how well he complied with disclosure rules, etc.

  • SKM on January 17, 2012 8:57 AM:

    Oh Poor Mitt. Is that what he wants to hear?

    Well, if we, the 99% have to give up this kind of information, SS#, credit reports, criminal background checks, even giving up bodily floods for drug testing before we're offered a job - what's the problem Mitt?

    BTW, if I was worth a much as you and tried to get a job that paid less than $500k, they would probably say I am overqualified, which is another word for, you cost too much to hire.

  • lou on January 17, 2012 9:00 AM:

    How many years has Romney been campaigning?

    Doesn't bode well for him becoming a quick learner as president unless dissembler and liar are essential qualifications.

  • Duke on January 17, 2012 9:17 AM:

    Of course, because Romney's rich, he's f***in Eevvvviiilll.

    Just look at him, making all that money. Of course, because of how much money he has, he MUST only want to make more money. That's what Mormons worship, right? Must be. He's a GOP candidate, ALL those guys worship money.

    I mean seriously. He pays the tax code required of him by law ... BUT THAT'S UNJUST! Because he should pay more, because he's rich, right? Nevermind that people young and old, poor and rich all pay the same interest on "carried interest"... OBVIOUSLY that should be progressive, too, right? I mean, that's what progressivism is all about, right? Progress?
    DUH!

    I'm so sick of these damn republicans! They just care about the rich! Why do the poor care about the rich? Obviously democratic policies only hurt the rich. Healthcare, if paid for by the rich, would help a lot of people! Duh! Hello! I mean cmon, they are the ones with the ability! The RICH have the ability! THEY should use it for the betterment of the rest of us, right?

    We're poor saps, we can't take care of ourselves! They are ALL evil, ALL of them who have money, because I DON'T! Never mind that when I went $160k in debt for college, all I got was a barely-passing grade on an art-deco degree from a substandard university, COLLEGE IS ABOUT LEARNING ABOUT LIFE, MAN! And I did! I know a lot more about how to live! Obviously money doesn't measure that! You can't blame me for not wanting to make money. I don't need to be rich, I don't have the ability, I have SPIRIT, that's what! They gotta be the ones to care for ME!

    I can't help that I can't make money. I always knew I wasn't good with money, how do you expect me not to know to go $160k in debt because of it?

    This is ridiculous. Romney was born with money. I was born lower class, that's for sure. It's unfair that he should be born with money and I not! I should be given the same chance!

    Why don't the democrats propose a "Equalization of Opportunity" bill for small guys like me? 100% Estate Tax, redistribute it among everyone equally! Fair chances! I ought to have my debt paid off. There's no way I can pay it back on my own and live the life I want to!

    I hate Mitt Romney, that damn Capitalist, Big Wig, Head-Honcho type. Sure, he claims to know how the economy works, but sure! Like he ever helped me get MY job. I work for MINIMUM WAGE at STAPLES! What has HE ever done for ME?

    I hate that guy. BEST ARTICLE EVER WRITTEN.

  • g on January 17, 2012 9:45 AM:

    Who wants to bet $10,000 that we'll also find out he doesn't tithe 10% to the Mormon Church as expected.

  • Grumpy on January 17, 2012 9:59 AM:

    ...Romney won’t rule it out, but won’t disclose anything until after GOP voters give him the party’s presidential nomination.

    In other words, GOP primary voters don't deserve that information, but non-Republican voters do.

  • BroD on January 17, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Because GOP voters will let him get away with it.

  • jcricket on January 17, 2012 10:39 AM:

    Romney hedges his words with 'probably'.

    If he intends to release them, he would state so openly without hesitation. Hell, he doesn't hesitate with any other campaign 'promise'.

    So why the hedging with the tax returns?

    Because without that one word, this would be a promise that he would have to fulfill *before* the election. His use of the word 'probably' is his only defense against being shown he is the liar that he is in a most blatant fashion.

  • qwerty on January 17, 2012 11:14 AM:

    I'm sure that Romney is waiting for Obama to release his "real" birth certificate before releasing his tax returns.

  • Texas Aggie on January 17, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Has no one noticed that he said he would release his tax returns in April of NEXT year, i.e., 2013? That means that we have to elect him president first.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on January 17, 2012 1:19 PM:

    Too bad Slick Willy can't deep six his tax records like he did those Governer's Office hard drives...

  • flyonthewall on January 17, 2012 2:31 PM:

    Romney says he will probably release his tax returns in April. What I believe he will do is just provide the returns for 2011, where he will make sure his CPA's and lawyers make sure the rate he pays is much higher than he has paid in the past.

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