Tuesday, July 17, 2012

RomneyBain: First there is retirement,
then there is no retirement, then there is


NEWS OF the corporate time-travel saga of W. Mitt Romney continued over the weekend. The former Massachusetts governor and presumptive Republican nominee for president was briefly master of TV time and space, showing up on five networks on Friday to effectively double down on his stonewall strategy concerning the release of his tax returns.

But it fell to Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser and an old party hand at linguistically framing the debate, to come up with a term that tried to explain the circular illogic of Romney’s ghost-CEO status with Bain Capital, a phrase sure to find its way into the national lexicon, at Romney’s expense.

On Sunday, first on “Meet the Press” and later on CNN, Gillespie explained that Romney had “retired retroactively” from Bain Capital. He told CNN’s “Candy Crowley” that Romney “took a leave of absence and, in fact ... he ended up not going back [to Bain] at all, and retired retroactively to February of 1999 as a result. … He left a life he loved to go to Salt Lake City to save the Olympics for a country he loves more ...”



You knew this was thought through, that somebody was actually compensated for devising this bizarre locution, because Gillespie said it twice. But “retired retroactively”? What the hell is that? Maybe it means you can retire before you quit working. Maybe it means you can retire before you start working.

It was just the latest display of gymnastics from the Romney campaign, a crew thrown off message by the growing call for release of those tax returns, and the parallel questions about whether Mitt Romney did or didn’t resign from Bain Capital on Feb. 11, 1999.

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See, Romney told federal authorities in financial disclosure documents dated August 2011 that he had “retired from Bain Capital on February 11, 1999 to head the Salt Lake Organizing Committee [for the 2002 Winter Olympics]. Since February 11, 1999, Mr. Romney has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.”

The operative words there, of course, are “in any way.” Those three words are immune to spin, foundationally problematic in explaining any role he had at Bain after that date.

Like the date that surfaced in a weekend story in the Huffington Post, which reported that “[a] corporate document filed with the state of Massachusetts in December 2002 -- a month after Romney was elected governor -- lists him as one of two managing members of Bain Capital Investors, LLC ‘authorized to execute, acknowledge, deliver and record any recordable instrument purporting to affect an interest in real property, whether to be recorded with a Registry of Deeds or with a District Office of the Land Court.’ ”

Or the range of dates MSNBC reported on Monday, dates between April 2000 and May 2001, dates on filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission identifying Romney as a “member of the management committee” (in six filings) and as “president and managing director” on another.

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MITT ROMNEY is now in the position — tactically ironic and politically problematic — of running away from his relationship with Bain Capital (the parts of it that aren’t subject to being tweaked and spun by his campaign) much the same way he’s spent the past seven months or so running away from his experience as the governor of Massachusetts.

Chuckd in the Huffington Post observed: “I think someone needs to check Romney's car elevator for a white DeLorean-- he has clearly discovered the means of time travel! If he didn't place such a high emphasis on money, maybe he could retroactively nullify some of those decisions that were made at Bain when he was on paper as the president, CEO, and sole stock holder.”

It’s becoming a serious liability, and it’s one the Romney campaign hasn’t been nimble about confronting. The candidate proved that again in his interview speed-dating exercise on Friday, when he basically reinforced what he’s already said about not releasing tax returns beyond the 2010 and 2011 returns already made public. “You can never satisfy the opposition research team of the Obama organization," Romney told CBS News on Friday.

But this isn’t being ginned up by the oppo crew at Team Obama. The call for his tax returns has become a bipartisan thing.

"He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It's crazy," said conservative political analyst Bill Kristol, on “Fox News Sunday.” "You gotta release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two ..."

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Kristol’s not alone. "If you have things to hide, then maybe you're doing things wrong," said Alabama's Republican Gov. Robert Bentley, at the National Governors Association meeting in Williamsburg, Va. “I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.” Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and party strategist Ana Navarro have said much the same thing.



Conservative columnist George Will said on ABC: “I don't know why... he didn't get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest,” Will said. “He's done nothing illegal, nothing unseemly, nothing improper, but lots that's impolitic, and he’s now in the politics business.”

“The costs of not releasing the returns are clear," Will said Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.” “Therefore, he must have calculated there are higher costs to releasing them.”



WILL UNDERSTANDS the common-sense simplicity of the situation: If Romney has nothing to hide, if everything is truly above board, why not release the tax returns? Why make headaches for yourself for no reason?

Whether out of sheer constitutional obstinance or a real attempt to conceal something politically unsavory, or worse, Mitt Romney has decided to stay the course, to keep his campaign’s non-disclosure agreement with the American public in force. Optics be damned.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told The Huffington Post. “The Romney campaign isn't stupid. They have decided that it's better to get attacked on a lack of transparency, lack of accountability to the American people, versus telling you what's in those taxes.”

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Mitt Romney repaired late last week to the relatively safe harbor of an interview with Oprah Winfrey. The Associated Press reported on Saturday that Romney and his wife, Ann, met Friday with the multimillionaire entrepreneur and talk-show queen, for an interview to be published in O, The Oprah Magazine.

But not even Oprah’s imprimatur can help Romney in this issue. Digging his heels in the sandy soil of refusal and denial won’t help him weather what’s always been, and is now publicly becoming, a credibility question.

The Romney campaign hasn’t fully grasped the fact that, contrary to political maxim, it’s not necessarily the explanation itself that’s a problem, it’s the re-explanation — or the re-re-explanation — that gets you into trouble. Gillespie’s “retired retroactively” defense is a classic example of how bad, how flat-out silly that can get.

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WE CAN expect a concerted pushback from the Romney organization, calling for this debate over tax returns to end and characterizing it as unimportant given the overall posture of the national economy. But this speaks to a character issue, and awakens both a debate over Romney and a closer examination of his economic and ethical bona fides that are long overdue.

Joe Klein of Time magazine, appearing on MSNBC’s “Hardball” on Monday, said that if Romney released the tax records, “he could turn this around in a heartbeat.”

A respectful dissent: Mitt Romney really can’t turn this around, whether he lets the records go or not (and the betting money in the blogosphere says they will be released. Back up the forklifts.). He can’t turn this around because the entire misstep, the infrastructure of this mistake reflects who and what Mitt Romney is, and what he’s about: entitlement, leverage, the importance of privacy over principles. This is bigger than image and spin and nuance and lighting the candidate properly at campaign events.

This is a question of character. It speaks to integrity, and it’s a very good snapshot indicator of whether Mitt Romney has it or he doesn’t. As such, it’s fair game from now until Election Day.

Until then, unless he retroactively retires from his campaign, it’s a crisis that Mitt Romney can at least contain, if not control. He can’t undo the damage already done, but he could stop the bleeding tomorrow. But for now let’s just call all of this what it is, a non-disclosure disclosure: The fact that he hasn’t resolved this issue, the fact that he refuses to resolve it, may well tell the American people everything they need to know.

Image credits: Romney: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images. Gillespie: CNN. 2002 Winter games logo: Salt Lake Organizing Committee. Bain Capital logo: © 2012 Bain Capital LLC.

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