Breaking news: Mitt Romney lied...one way or the other.
In classic CNN fashion, we can report that before we actually know all the details. Which is what so interesting about the story that was broken by my old (literally) college friend David Corn of Mother Jones and then amplified this morning by the mainstream, credit-stealing Boston Globe. The issue is this: Romney has long maintained, to voters and and some disclosure forms, that he left Bain Capital in 1999. Yet on forms filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as late as 2001, he continued to list himself as CEO and sole shareholder of Bain. Somewhere in there Romney told a lie -- we're just not sure which one it is.
The Romney campaign and Bain maintain that he said au revoir in February 1999, when he took over the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. On Monday, I reported that documents filed in late 1999 with the Securities and Exchange Commission—including one signed by Romney—identify Romney as a participant in a Bain partnership that invested $75 million in Stericycle, a medical-waste firm that in recent years has been assailed by abortion foes for disposing of aborted fetuses collected from family planning clinics. The documents suggest that Romney had not fully removed himself from Bain's business dealings.
In its letter to FactCheck.org, the Obama campaign contended that "the statement that Gov. Romney 'left' Bain in February 1999—a statement central to your fact-check—is not accurate, Romney took an informal leave of absence but remained in full legal control of Bain and continued to be paid by Bain as such." No one disputes that Romney retained ownership and legal control of Bain. For that alone, he might be considered partly accountable for its actions. But is it believable that while he remained Bain's owner and possessed full legal control of assorted Bain entities, he never took an interest in what the firm and its funds were doing?
The Romney campaign and Bain insist that Romney had not a thing to do with Bain after February 1999, though he signed filings and pocketed millions. But they won't answer specific questions about Romney and Bain during this period—just as Romney won't come clean on his tax returns. (See this Vanity Fair blockbuster report on Romney's personal finances and what is still unknown about them.) He remains the opaque quarter-billionaire—with mystery surrounding his wealth and the business career he touts as a steppingstone to the presidency. He has yet to be fully vetted.
Agreed. I was struck by this passage from a biography of Romney which the New York Times used in its piece that seems to attempt to throw cold water on the disclosures:
His departure form Bain Capital, though, was not so neat. The partners squabbled over how the firm would operate without him. A power struggle ensued. Several partners made plans to leave. Suddenly, a company that relied on loyalty, long-term relationships, and Romney’s personal courtship of investors seemed to be at risk. And such a breakup could be messy. A Bain meltdown might mean lawsuits with tens of millions of dollars at stake. The potential existed for embarrassing disclosures of how much money Romney had made on certain deals. “It would have been a circus, and circuses over money are not good for politicians,” one Romney associate said.
You know what -- that potential for embarassing disclosures still exists today, doesn't it? Meanwhile, Romney's lie about Bain doesn't strike me as the lie of the century. It's probably not the biggest lie of the day. But it reminds me -- in terms of degree -- of Bill Clinton and the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Romney's lie about running -- or not running -- Bain Capital, possibly on federal filings, seems about on the same level as Clinton lying in what should have been an inconsquential civil lawsuit about his personal life.
But these things gain prominence not for the actual lie, but for the larger truths they seem to speak to. For Clinton it was the fact that his reckless personal behavior had degraded the presidency and the Oval Office. For Romney, it's the lengths he seems willing to go to confound, confuse, and obfuscate about his personal financial dealings.
Bill Clinton was impeached for lying about his blow job. Would Mitt Romney get impeached for lying about his Bain job?
In the latter case, we might never find out.