The Romney campaign has truly awful timing. After weeks of the Obama campaign undermining Mitt Romney's standing with ads attacking the Republican's controversial private-sector background, Romney punched back hard this morning with a new ad that effectively (and ironically) accuses the president of being a big liar.
The strategy was simple: the whole day was supposed to be about Romney's claim that the president is the lyingest liar who's ever lied. Instead, the ad was released the same day as a new Boston Globe bombshell that catches Romney lying about his Bain background.
Government documents filed by Mitt Romney and Bain Capital say Romney remained chief executive and chairman of the firm three years beyond the date he said he ceded control, even creating five new investment partnerships during that time.
Romney has said he left Bain in 1999 to lead the winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, ending his role in the company. But public Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed later by Bain Capital state he remained the firm's "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president."
Also, a Massachusetts financial disclosure form Romney filed in 2003 states that he still owned 100 percent of Bain Capital in 2002. And Romney's state financial disclosure forms indicate he earned at least $100,000 as a Bain "executive" in 2001 and 2002, separate from investment earnings.
Perhaps the most brutal element of the article comes towards the end: an unnamed Romney campaign official acknowledged that Romney's claims "do not square with common sense" given the SEC filings. Ouch.
To put it mildly, this has the potential to do some very serious damage to Romney's candidacy.
For one thing, there's the question of which of Romney's contradictory answers is the truth. When the editors of FactCheck.org initially took Romney's claims at face value to reject Democratic criticisms, they said the candidate must be telling the truth about his Bain departure date, because if he didn't really leave until 2002, then "Romney would be guilty of a federal felony by certifying on federal financial disclosure forms that he left active management of Bain Capital in February 1999."
FactCheck.org meant that to be proof that Romney's claims were true. Now that there's ample evidence to the contrary, it's worth considering that whole "guilty of a federal felony" question again.
But even if we put that aside, the underlying point is why Romney wants people to believe he left Bain earlier than the apparent, documented date. On this, there's no great mystery: Romney doesn't want to be on the hook for a series of controversial Bain investments, layoffs, and bankruptcies that Bain oversaw after February 1999.
In other words, Romney isn't just accused of lying about a superficial clerical matter; he's accused of lying to avoid responsibility for his business' actions on his watch.
The Romney defense is that he was technically Bain's chief after February 1999, but he wasn't really involved with the company anymore. He was, as the New York Times described it the other day, "an absentee owner" who "left day-to-day management" to others.
But all of the new details make this defense hard to believe. This week's reporting suggests Romney was actively involved with running Bain Capital and overseeing its operations well after the point at which he claims to have departed from the firm.
What's more, we're looking at a larger story that's starting to snowball. Romney is now burdened by unexplained offshore finances, hidden tax returns, dubious disclosures, controversial investments, unanswered questions about his individual retirement account that somehow ended up with more than $100 million, and claims about his business that contradict SEC filings.
At some point, the Republican presidential candidate is probably going to have to come clean, answer questions from someone other than Fox, and set the record straight. If Romney's smart, he'll do this sooner, rather than later.