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Dogged by tax issue, Romney wants Gingrich to release ethics files

January 20, 2012|By Michael Finnegan
  • Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally outside a barn at the Harmon Tree Farm in Gilbert, S.C.
Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally outside a barn at the Harmon Tree… (Joe Raedle / Getty Images )

Reporting from Gilbert, S.C. —

Deflecting calls to release his tax returns, Mitt Romney called on Newt Gingrich to make public confidential files from the inquiry that led to a $300,000 fine against the former House speaker for breaking congressional ethics rules.

"I think over 80% of Republican congressmen voted to reprimand the speaker of the House -- first time in history," Romney told reporters after a rain-soaked rally outside a barn at Harmon's Tree Farm here in central South Carolina.

Nancy Pelosi, now House minority leader, "has the full record of that ethics investigation," Romney said. "You know it's going to get out before the general election. Sure, he ought to get it out now."

Romney's challenge to his chief rival came as polls show Gingrich rapidly narrowing the former Massachusetts governor's lead in the South Carolina primary Saturday, thanks partly to the former speaker's forceful performances in televised debates.
At a drama-filled debate in North Charleston on Thursday, Gingrich criticized Romney for resisting calls that he release his tax returns, saying: "If 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?"
Gingrich released his 2010 federal income tax return during the debate, but the two other major contenders for the GOP nomination, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, have made none of their returns public. Santorum has pledged to release some tax returns when he gets back home from the campaign trail.
At his news conference, Romney struggled to explain why he first refused to release his tax returns, then, under pressure from rivals and the media, agreed later that he might release his 2011 returns in April, then finally said he would release multiple years of returns in April. He has declined to say how many years.
"At the very beginning I indicated that I hadn't any plans to release my tax returns, and then it became clear that that was of great interest," he said.
He said his candidate financial disclosure forms tell the public "a heck of a lot more about my finances than will the tax returns ... so I felt that was more than sufficient."
With all the interest in disclosure, he said, he decided to "release the tax returns when they can all be released at one time."
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was campaigning with Romney here in her home county, Lexington, said voters were not talking about tax returns.
"I've heard more people wondering why you guys aren't asking about ethics reports and ethics problems with the Gingrich campaign -- nobody's talking about tax returns," she said.

The report on Gingrich's 1990s ethics violations is public.

"Given Speaker Gingrich's new-found interest in disclosure and transparency, and his concern about an 'October surprise,' he should authorize the release of the complete record of the ethics proceedings against him," said Gail Gitcho, Romney’s communications director.
"We know from Newt's own statements that he turned over a million pages of documents. Nancy Pelosi, who sat on the ethics committee, said that this information contains damaging information."

In December, Pelosi hinted that she would one day discuss the "thousand pages of his stuff" that she rifled through in the late 1990s while serving on a panel that was investigating Gingrich.
Gingrich called that kind of disclosure "a fundamental violation of the rules of the House" and said he hoped "that members would immediately file charges against her the second she does it."

The Gingrich campaign responded to Romney's remarks by issuing a statement saying he had gone "on a panic-attack calling on Newt Gingrich to release records which have been available to the public for over a decade."
In his question-and-answer session with reporters, Romney also played down his prospects for the South Carolina primary, which he had hoped would effectively seal the GOP nomination for him.
"I sure would like to win South Carolina, but I know that if those polls were right, regardless of who gets the final number, we're both going to get a lot of delegates," he said.
Romney spoke after a rally with about 150 supporters in a drenching rainstorm outside the barn. He and Haley spoke from on top of a wooden hay-bale cart attached to a green John Deere tractor. Romney grabbed apples out of a basket and tossed them to supporters, many of them under umbrellas.
Clad in blue jeans and a black parka, he gave a quick rendition of his stump speech, casting himself as the only Washington outsider left in the Republican race -- and the only one with significant experience in the private sector.
"I've been running businesses!" he hollered to the crowd.

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