We’re late to today’s Boston Globe piece, but if you missed the basics of the story elsewhere, spend five minutes on the surprisingly useful — and pro-Romney — fact-check pieces about it at the Washington Post and FactCheck.org. Nutshell version: Romney left his duties at Bain in 1999 to devote himself full-time to rescuing the Salt Lake City Olympics but retained his titles as chairman, president, and CEO of the firm for several more years. He was even listed that way on securities filings after 1999. Does that mean Romney lied to the SEC, claiming that he was still in charge when he really wasn’t? Or does that mean Romney lied to the public, claiming that he wasn’t still in charge when he really was? Democrats will accept either theory. If the former’s true, he might be guilty of a felony; one of his top spokeshacks suggested as much in a conference call today, drawing a demand for an apology from Team Mitt. And if the latter’s true then he can be held responsible for whichever post-1999 Bain deals the left is pretending to care about today to keep the focus off of Obama’s record.
But here’s a radical third theory. What if … Romney retained his official positions at the firm but was no longer participating in its day-to-day operations? Could such a bizarre state of affairs have existed? There’s an arcane labor concept out there called a “leave of absence” that might explain it, but I don’t know. Let’s see what Fortune magazine has to say about it:
Mitt Romney did not manage Bain Capital’s investments after leaving to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games, according to confidential firm documents obtained by Fortune.
The timing of Romney’s departure from Bain became a lightning rod earlier today, when The Boston Globe published an article suggesting that Romney remained actively involved with the firm longer than he and his campaign have claimed. The sourcing is largely SEC documents that list Romney as Bain Capital’s CEO and sole shareholder through 2002 — or three years after Romney officially left to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games…
As Fortune wrote earlier, Romney left Bain suddenly — rather than as part of an organized transition plan — after being asked to lead an Olympic organizing committee that had spiraled out of control. Moreover, it was unclear in February 1999 if Romney’s leave of absence would be permanent, or if he would return (as he had in 1994, after losing a U.S.Senate race to Ted Kennedy). He didn’t formally give up his title and firm ownership until 2002, once the Games had been successful and he was interested in other elective office. In the interim, he continued to fulfill legal obligations such as signing certain documents — but actual investment and managerial decisions were being made by others.
Follow the link for key excerpts from the relevant documents. The guy was presented with an emergency at the Olympics, he agreed to drop what he was doing in order to help out, but he quite sensibly decided not to sever ties with Bain altogether since his new gig was by nature a temporary one. So he kept his positions formally and went off to work in Salt Lake full time — 112 hours per week initially and then 84 hours per week a bit later, according to his wife. But never mind all that. Guy Benson asks the right question: If the left thinks Romney was lying from 1999-2002, either to the SEC or to the public, what exactly was his motive?
I spoke with a Romney campaign aide, who confirmed that Romney signed off on these financial disclosure forms (under penalty of law) at the time. In other words, Romney didn’t try to rewrite his history only recently, now that he’s running for president. So, setting aside all the evidence above, liberals would have us believe that (1) Mitt Romney and his team of attorneys intentionally committed a felony in the early 2000s by submitting false information to the federal government, and (2) he did so to cover his ass just in case future political opponents might try to blame him for Bain-related bankruptcies — some of which had not even occurred yet (!) — twelve years later. This is ridiculous on its face, of course, but if liberals want to say they believe it, they’d also better acknowledge that Romney is a wizard who can see the future and act accordingly. Sounds like a pretty good quality to have in a president, doesn’t it, deranged Lefties?
How did Romney benefit from allegedly lying at the time? He already had a long record at Bain that class warriors could exploit politically if/when he ran for office in the future. If he was that concerned about private equity as a political liability, he simply would have quit the firm in 1999. Lord knows, he had enough money saved up by then not to have to worry about retirement. Occam’s Razor suggests a much simpler explanation: He expected to return to Bain at some point and didn’t see the need to undertake a formal separation. So he removed himself from operations — likely to reduce the risk of any potential conflict of interest between his Olympics work and Bain’s dealings — and remained nominally in charge. Scandal. But let’s not devote more time to this story than it deserves: Greg Sargent and NBC have already moved on from the actual facts to the “larger truth” narrative, i.e. that this attack line is golden because it makes Romney look shady even if it’s, er, not actually true. Just like the stern warnings about “extreme conservative rhetoric” after the Tucson shooting last year, the whole thing’s based on a lie but will be hammered by Democrats anyway because it’s potentially really politically useful to them.
I’ve got a few updates coming. While you wait, read those FactCheck and WaPo pieces I linked.
Update: A good catch by Legal Insurrection. Not only is the “when did Romney quit Bain?” attack line old enough to have appeared in McCain’s 2007 oppo research file on Mitt, the information in that file actually came from a 2002 story in — ta da — the Boston Globe, the source of today’s supposed “bombshell.” The Globe’s recycling its own reporting as a “scoop” in the interest of helping Obama. Even worse, the Globe recently published a biography on Romney — and its narrative of what happened when he left Bain differs from the current version. Per WaPo:
The [Globe’s] story seems to hinge on a quote from a former Securities and Exchange Commission member, which would have more credibility if the Globe had disclosed she was a regular contributor to Democrats. (Interestingly, “The Real Romney,” a book on the former Massachusetts governor, by Boston Globe reporters, states clearly that he left Bain when he went to run the Olympics and details the turmoil that ensued when he suddenly quit, nearly breaking up the partnership).
So they’re recycling “helpful” details and hiding unhelpful ones. Good work, guys.
Update: Dave Weigel writes, “Sure, Romney’s name appeared on Bain’s SEC filings. But he didn’t make Bain’s decisions. He only benefited financially from them. Now you see why the Obama campaign thinks it can drag this out over weeks and months.” Yes, but we already knew that. One of the ironies of this story is that Romney’s opponents already have a way to tie him to Bain’s post-1999 record, irrespective of whether he quit day-to-day operations at the time. Remember this NYT piece from last December describing how Romney’s retirement deal with Bain granted him a share of profits on deals made through 2009? He was still receiving some of those profits last year because some of the deals hadn’t wound down yet. If the touchstone here is Romney making money off of Bain’s work rather than Romney directing Bain’s operations, then Democrats don’t need the Globe story.