Mitt Romney accused President Obama on Friday of stooping to reckless and undignified campaign tactics, saying he was spreading false information to tarnish his rival’s record as chief executive of a Boston private equity firm.
Romney, who rarely takes questions from the news media, made his remarks in an extraordinary round of hastily arranged TV interviews Friday with ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News and CNN.
His sudden willingness to speak with every major TV news outlet was part of Romney’s effort to contain the damage from Democrats’ attacks on his record at the helm of Bain Capital, the firm where he built a personal fortune of as much as $250 million.
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Obama’s Republican challenger hammered the president for the statement Thursday by his deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, that Romney might have committed a felony by telling the Securities and Exchange Commission that he was Bain’s sole owner, board chairman, chief executive and president at a time when he now says he no longer played any role in the firm.
“Is this the level that the Obama campaign is willing to stoop to?” Romney said on CNN. “Is this up to the standards expected of the presidency of the United States? I don't think the American people think so. I certainly don't think so.”
Romney’s newly aggressive response to the Obama attacks – he launched TV advertising portraying the president as a liar this week – comes as some Republican leaders have begun fretting over the effectiveness of his strategy. Romney’s attempt to ignore Obama’s assault on his record at Bain has prompted much of the second-guessing.
In a blitz of TV ads running in Florida, Ohio and other swing states, the Obama campaign has portrayed Romney as a corporate raider who enriched himself by shipping American jobs overseas. At the same time, Obama allies have run emotionally charged ads showing laid-off blue-collar workers seething at Romney for making money in Bain takeover deals that cost them their jobs and devastated their communities.
The ads, which could be helping Obama maintain what polls show to be a slight edge over Romney in battleground states, are aimed at undercutting the former Massachusetts governor’s assertion that his career in the private sector taught him how to create jobs.
In an interview Friday with WJLA, a Washington television station, Obama called the questions about when Romney left Bain a legitimate part of the campaign, given the signed statements that Romney submitted to the SEC.
The SEC documents are significant, because they appear to contradict Romney’s statements – repeated in his latest TV interviews – that he left Bain in 1999 when he was put in charge of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Some of the Bain activity underlying the Obama attacks occurred from 1999 to 2002, when Romney formalized his departure from Bain.
“Now my understanding is that Mr. Romney attested to the SEC multiple times that he was the chairman, CEO and president of Bain Capital,” Obama said. “And I think most Americans figure if you’re the chairman, CEO and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does.”
Romney’s effort to distance himself from Bain activities that took place from 1999 to 2002 demonstrate the challenge he faces in highlighting the jobs created in the firm’s takeover deals while denying responsibility for the jobs lost. Romney’s severance deal with Bain has allowed him to continue collecting millions of dollars in income from the firm over the last decade.
“I left in February of 1999 to go out and run the Olympics,” Romney told CNN. “I went out and did that full-time, relinquished all management authority and role in Bain Capital after February of 1999.”
As for the Obama team’s statements to the contrary, he added, “There's no question but that his campaign is putting out information which is false and deceptive and dishonest. And they know it. And they ought to stop.”
Romney also rejected renewed calls by Obama and Democratic allies, including former President Bill Clinton on Friday, to release more than the one year of personal income tax returns that he has made public. Obama has released 12 years of tax returns.
Romney allowed the media to review his 2010 returns and has promised to release his 2011 returns when he files them.
“Those those are the two years that people are going to have,” he told CNN. “And that's all that's necessary for people to understand something about my finances.”
On CBS, Romney said that Obama owed him an apology for his deputy campaign manager’s suggestion that he was a felon or a liar.
“My goodness,” Romney said. “What kind of a president would have a campaign that says something like that about the nominee of another party? This is reckless and absurd on his part and it's something which is beneath his dignity.”