Via the Washington Free Beacon, why on earth is the White House press secretary wading into a dispute related to the presidential race? I’m sure GOP press secretaries have done that too for Republican incumbents but I don’t like it from either party. Carney’s supposed to be a liaison between the president and the media so that the public can stay informed about what’s going on with the executive branch. The only questions he should be fielding vis-a-vis Romney are when Team Mitt makes a charge about the administration’s policies that requires fact checking. The One’s paying Ben LaBolt for a reason, right? Let him be the one to navel-gaze on camera about the proper way for Romney to respond to Reid’s low-rent smear, not a guy who’s ostensibly some sort of public servant tasked with providing citizens with basic facts.

As for why Romney hasn’t yet released the returns, does anyone believe this?

Mitt Romney and his aides believe that — despite loud and nagging calls for him to release his tax returns — the candidate simply cannot afford to release his taxes now, even as some aides wish he would have put them out six months ago or more.

With less than three months to election day, the Romney campaign has passed the “point of no return,” as one Republican operative close to the campaign put it, beyond which there isn’t enough time for the media to digest the tax returns before the public starts to pay attention to the race.

“The complaining for more and more returns and the stories about how rich he is get old after a few weeks, but there aren’t a few weeks left,” the operative said. “Now we’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing and hope it isn’t too painful.”

If he put them out now, the press would spend two weeks buzzing about them and then everyone’s focus would shift to the conventions. In the meantime, Romney would have announced his VP pick and there would be new jerky little distractions to keep the media busy. By the time of the debates, when voters are really tuned in, no one would care anymore. Unless there really is something damaging in there that he’s hiding, the suspicions he’s creating by not releasing them are probably hurting him worse than releasing would. But I don’t know; maybe the dynamics of this now are such that if he produces the returns, he’ll be seen as “giving in” to Democratic pressure and some conservative voters will be mad at him. Just seems hard to understand why he’d let this be a liability if the truth is that it isn’t one.