Washington (CNN) - Mitt Romney tried time and again to make one thing clear in our interview. On five different occasions in the first few minutes of the interview, Romney said he had “no role whatsoever” at Bain Capital after February 1999.
Here are the ways he said it:
“I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999.”
“I left in February of 1999 to go out and run the Olympics.”
“I went out and did that full-time, relinquished all management authority and role in Bain Capital after February of 1999.”
“But the truth is that I left any role at Bain Capital in February of ’99.”
“And I had no role whatsoever in managing Bain Capital after February of 1999.”
That kind of repetition doesn’t happen by accident. After days of questions about Bain Capital filings at the Securities and Exchange Commission showing Romney still with the company after 1999, the year he has cited repeatedly as his departure date from the firm, the GOP contender and his campaign agreed to a round robin of interviews with the correspondents who cover his candidacy.
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He repeated virtually the same denial, nearly word for word (perhaps not as many times) in all of the interviews.
But when pressed whether he was concerned that the discrepancy between his own words and government documents may one day cause a distraction for his campaign, Romney volunteered a broad defense of the firm’s work.
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with being associated with Bain Capital, of course.”
Romney also addressed questions in various news reports about recently revealed Massachusetts state documents indicating that, after 1999, he sat in on board meetings for the office supply chain Staples, a company he helped found when at Bain Capital.
“Bain Capital had already sold its shares or distributed its shares in Staples. And so my involvement with Staples was entirely on a personal basis,” Romney said. “I continued to be involved with the firm. But it was as a fiduciary for Staples, not as a representative of Bain Capital.”
The real fireworks came when Romney lit into President Obama’s reelection campaign.
“It’s demeaning. It’s disgusting,” Romney insisted at one point in the interview.
Earlier in the week, one of the president’s advisers, Stephanie Cutter, suggested Romney could be guilty of a “felony” due to the questions that have been raised about the SEC filings.
“Is that what’s really expected from the campaign of the sitting president of the United States,” Romney asked. “There’s no question but that his campaign is putting out information which is false and deceptive and dishonest. And they know it.”
Despite being one of the wealthiest presidential nominees in the modern era, Romney also stated he plans to release just two of his tax returns before the November election, the 2010 return already made public by his campaign, and his 2011 return. An estimate of that 2011 return has also been released.
“I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more. And you know, we’re putting out what is required plus more than that is not required,” Romney said.
Referring to the 2010 and 2011 returns, Romney could not be more clear about his plans. “And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that’s – that’s all that’s necessary for people to understand about my finances,” he added.
We asked Romney if he felt he was being “swift-boated,” a reference to the Republican attacks on Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s war record in 2004.
“Boy, I hadn’t heard that term but I’ll give it some thought,” Romney said initially to the question.
Several minutes later, unprompted by this reporter, Romney returned to that swift-boating theme.
“If people believe this should be a campaign about attacking one another on a personal basis and go back to the kinds of attacks that were suggested in some campaigns in the past, I don’t want to go there.”
The question is whether it’s too late for both campaigns to avoid going “there” now.
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