As George Will said about Mitt Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns, “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear. Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.” Last week we learned that whatever it is he is hiding may not be new.
Rachel Maddow and her producers did a little digging and found that, in 2002, when he was running for governor of Massachusetts, Romney was equally adamant that he would not release his tax returns. A key issue then was Romney’s eligibility to serve as governor. Massachusetts law requires that in order to serve as governor, candidates must have resided in the state for the previous seven consecutive years. Because Romney had lived in Utah full time while he ran the 2002 winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, it seemed obvious he did not meet that requirement.
One way to tell for sure would be to see which state, Massachusetts or Utah, Romney listed as his primary residence on his IRS forms. Romney and his adviser, Eric “Etch-A-Sketch” Fernhstrom vehemently denied that Romney had filed as a full-time resident of Utah. It was later revealed they were lying — Romney had amended his returns to change his claim of full-time residency in Utah to full-time residency in Massachusetts — retroactively.
Here’s the transcript of Maddow discussing Romney’s tax-returns dodge in 2002, which picks up around minute 06:40 in the video above:
RACHEL MADDOW: It makes sense that people are focusing on Harry Reid, but there are two things from the public record of Mitt Romney`s life as a politician that should change or at least inflect the way this is being discussed.
And the first is that if you don’t like the way Harry Reid is making this accusation, if you don’t like the way he’s approaching this, if you think it’s unfair or unseemly, you should at least know that Mitt Romney himself has done this exact same thing that he is complaining is being done to him now.
In 2002, when Mitt Romney was running for Massachusetts governor, he would not release his tax returns. All of the candidates running on the Democratic side, Robert Reich, Tom Birmingham, Shannon O’Brien, who became the ultimate Democratic nominee, they all released multiple years of tax returns. But Mitt Romney on the Republican side, would not release his.
So, when it came time for the general election, you got a Democrat, Shannon O’Brien, who has released her tax returns, and you’ve got the Republican, Mitt Romney, who has not released his tax returns. From that position, as the guy who hasn’t released his returns, Mitt Romney attacks Shannon O’Brien for her husband not releasing his tax returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Shannon O’Brien’s husband with whom I presume their share expenses, likewise, hasn’t released his income taxes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: I won’t release my tax returns, but your husband must.
Your returns aren’t good enough. I need to see your husband’s too, but no, you can’t see mine?
Look at this reporting from April 2002. One day after balking at releasing his own tax returns, the Romney campaign launches this attack on Shannon O’Brien. Quote, “Her hands aren’t clean,” said Romney deputy campaign manager Eric [“Etch-a-Sketch”] Fehrnstrom — oh, yes, remember him — of O’Brien’s release of her tax return but not the filings of her husband. Quote, “She can’t claim to be disclosing anything until she discloses the returns of her husband.” He went on to say, “What is she hiding?”
This is the campaign that’s not releasing anything, yelling at the campaign that has released its tax returns, what are you hiding?
Fast forward 10 years, and now it’s Harry Reid bellowing at Mitt Romney and Eric Fehrnstrom, what are you hiding? And Mitt Romney and Eric Fehrnstrom are whining and complaining about this horrible tactic and how unfair it is, and the whole press is going along with them, without looking back into Mitt Romney’s history to see that he has done the exact same thing.
If you go to MaddowBlog.com, we can’t release the whole article, but it’s locked into “Boston Herald’s” archives, but we posted the date and headline and reporter and you can be enterprising and find a way to pay for it online somehow so you can see for yourself that Mitt Romney did this exact same thing that Harry Reid is now doing to Romney that the whole press says is so awful.
So, I said there are two things about Mr. Romney’s past that should redirect the current furor in the presidential campaign right now. One is that he’s guilty of the exact same thing Harry Reid is doing — actually, even a worse variant of the same thing that he is now whining about with all of the support in the press. But the other thing, it’s more important, and actually, it’s the whole largely missed but most important point of the whole Mitt Romney tax question writ large, which becomes crystal clear when you look at his record in Massachusetts, and that is that Mr. Romney is not only refusing to release his tax returns. He’s not just saying no to that request, he’s making positive empirical claims about what is in his tax returns.
He’s not just saying, no, you can’t see them. He`s saying, no, you can’t see them and let me tell you what’s in them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
ROMNEY: Let me also say categorically, I have paid taxes every year, and a lot of taxes.
My view is I have paid all the taxes required by law. I don’t pay more than are legally due.
REPORTER: A spokesperson would only reiterate, “Mitt Romney has paid his taxes in full compliance with U.S. law and he has paid 100 percent of what he has owed.
ROMNEY: I obviously pay all full taxes, I’m honest in my dealings with people. People understand that.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: Is there some secret? People know you’re wealthy.
ROMNEY: Yes, I understand.
MITCHELL: There’s nothing to hide.
ROMNEY: No, I agree, there’s nothing to hide.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: These are all assertions by Mitt Romney himself and from his campaign dating from today all the way back to last year. That last comment to Andrea Mitchell was December of last year.
I have nothing to hide. Trust me. I have paid a lot of taxes. I have never paid zero taxes. I have paid many dollars in taxes. I have paid every dollar I’m legally required to. I have paid 100 percent of what I legally owe, trust me.
And this is what has been lost in this campaign furor around Mr. Romney’s taxes and him not releasing his tax returns. That’s that his response is not just — no, you can’t see my taxes. His response is — no, you can’t see my taxes, but let me tell you what’s in them. Trust me.
And what’s important about that is that Mitt Romney has done this before. He did this in Massachusetts in 2002.
Massachusetts Democrats said in 2002 that Mitt Romney was not eligible to run for governor in the state because the state constitution says you have to have been a resident of Massachusetts for seven years before you can run for governor. In trying to prove that allegation, they asserted that Mr. Romney’s tax returns would show that he had not filed his taxes as a Massachusetts resident. They thought that should disqualify him from being able to run for governor in the state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES ROOSEVELT, JR., MA DEM PARTY COUNSEL: We believe that Mitt Romney is not qualified under the Massachusetts constitution to be governor because he declared himself to be a nonresident of Massachusetts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So for their own reasons, because they were trying to get him kicked off the ballot, Massachusetts Democrats asserted that Mitt Romney’s taxes showed him declaring himself to be a non-resident of Massachusetts. The Romney campaign denied this. They went to reporters and denied that allegation from the Democrats.
“Romney filed his taxes as a resident of both Utah and Massachusetts in 1999 and 2000, and plans to do the same for 2001,” said Romney spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom.
They wouldn’t release the tax returns, wouldn’t show them to anyone, but they said trust me. Eric Fehrnstrom and Mitt Romney said trust us. The tax returns show that Mitt Romney filed as a Massachusetts resident. That’s what they said. They were lying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: The Democrats point to Romney’s house in Utah, which was listed as his primary residence, to support a challenge. They also want to see his tax returns.
ROOSEVELT: We have now learned from his own lips this afternoon that Mr. Romney lied yesterday when he said he had filed resident tax returns in both Massachusetts and Utah.
REPORTER: Romney acknowledged today he amended his 1999 and 2000 Massachusetts state tax returns to make him a resident here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: To make him a resident here retroactively. So after saying all along for months to the people of Massachusetts, trust me, I have been filing my tax returns as a Massachusetts resident, it finally came out under pressure that was not true. He had to go back retroactively and refile as a Massachusetts resident because he hadn’t filed as a Massachusetts resident despite what he was saying in public.
He said, trust me I have, when he had not.
The Romney campaign had held on to that line until the very last moment. Literally days before Mr. Romney finally had to admit, OK, no, I didn’t file as a Massachusetts resident, up until that week, he and Eric Fehrnstrom were still saying trust us.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Romney rejected a request by “The Globe” for copies of his returns with financial information redacted but his residential status visible. A Romney spokesman later identified by the globe as Eric Fehrnstrom insisted at the time that the GOP candidate had filed as a Massachusetts resident but told “The Globe” reporter you’re going to have to take my word for it. Days later, it turns out the word is worth nothing, at least when it comes to taxes. He was lying.
Ten years later, they’re saying everything he has ever done in his taxes is lawful. He’s never paid zero taxes. He’s paid every dollar he’s owed. He’s paid a ton of taxes. Trust us.
It’s a neat assertion. But it is an empirical assertion, checkable, and the people trying to vet Mitt Romney for president would like to be able to fact check that assertion. Presumably, you guys are making that assertion because you think it has political import. Therefore, you either need to be very trust worthy in your assertion of these things or need to let us check for ourselves as the American people and the press. And not only are you not letting us check for ourselves, but you have proven yourself in public life to be the opposite of trust worthy on this issue.
Ten years ago, you lost the benefit of the doubt on this issue.
Full transcript of the segment follows on Page 2