Much of yesterday's controversy surrounding Mitt Romney's work at Bain Capital comes down to a very narrow question. Both sides agree that Romney was a well-compensated CEO of his firm from 1999 to 2002. Both sides agree that Bain orchestrated controversial investments, layoffs, and bankruptcies during that time.
But while Romney's critics say he's responsible for the actions of his company, Romney's defenders say the buck stops somewhere else -- he may have been Bain's sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president, but he didn't really do any real work. Indeed, the argument goes, he wasn't even there.
Rachel played a clip last night from Romney's 2002 gubernatorial campaign in which he said of the time period in question, "I was in Utah full time. I had no responsibility for management at Bain Capital."
Overnight, new reports call these claims into further question.
Mitt Romney's repeated claim that he played no part in executive decision-making related to Bain Capital after 1999 is false, according to Romney's own testimony in June 2002, in which he admitted to sitting on the board of the LifeLike Co., a dollmaker that was a Bain investment during the period.
Romney has consistently insisted that he was too busy organizing the 2002 Winter Olympics to take part in Bain business between 1999 and that event. But in the testimony, which was provided to The Huffington Post, Romney noted that he regularly traveled back to Massachusetts. "[T]here were a number of social trips and business trips that brought me back to Massachusetts, board meetings, Thanksgiving and so forth," he said.
Romney's sworn testimony was given as part of a hearing to determine whether he had sufficient residency status in Massachusetts to run for governor.
So, on the one hand, Romney said he was in Utah "full time," was gone from Bain, and had no role in Bain's operations "in any way." On the other hand, Romney also said he wasn't in Utah "full time," and he remained actively involved in Bain investments after his alleged departure.
Politico reported overnight that the Romney campaign, when asked if Romney attended meetings and/or had contact with Bain between 1999 and 2002, "declined" to answer.
At a certain level, I suspect many of these details will be lost on the public. It might matter to the voting mainstream that Romney's claims clearly contradict one another, but the specifics will almost certainly get lost in the shuffle.
But the lingering problem for the Republican presidential hopeful is the lasting damage. Romney has already taken a hit for getting rich by laying off so many American workers, then he took another hit for investing so much of his vast wealth in offshore tax havens.
Now he's being forced to effectively tell the public, "Sure I was the CEO of my own firm, and sure I was paid handsomely, and sure I filed formal documents that said I was in charge, but don't worry, the buck stops somewhere else."
I keep thinking of a working class family in Columbus, Ohio, listening to this. It seems hard to imagine that family thinking, "Yeah, let's make that guy president."