For Mitt Romney, The Tax Questions Cometh (The Note)

Evan Vucci/AP photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )


  • GETTING TAXED: Think Mitt Romney wants to change the subject? In a series of interviews on Friday the presumptive Republican nominee got hammered over his record at Bain Capital and in a Fox News interview this morning, Romney was forced - once again - to talk about his income taxes and why he won't release more of them. Despite the pressure from the press, from Democrats and even from members of his own party, Romney appears unwilling to budge on releasing only his 2010 and 2011 returns. "John McCain ran for president and released two years of tax returns," Romney said on "Fox and Friends" this morning. "John Kerry ran for president and you know his wife who has hundreds of millions of dollars she never released her tax returns somehow this wasn't an issue."
  • THE NOTE ASKS: Will Romney release additional years of his tax returns? Will releasing tax records make the issue go away? Will Team Obama's attacks backfire? More on these questions below.
  • PLEASE SIR, CAN WE HAVE SOME MORE? Columnist and ABC News-regular George Will and ABC political analyst Matthew Dowd ripped Romney for not releasing more tax returns during yesterday's roundtable on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos." WILL: "If something's going to come out, get it out in a hurry. I do not know why, given that Mitt Romney knew the day that McCain lost in 2008 that he was going to run for president again that he didn't get all of this out and tidy up some of his offshore accounts and all the rest." DOWD: "Many of these politicians think, 'I can do this. I can get away with this. I don't need to do this, because I'm going to say something and I don't have to do this.' … if he had 20 years of great, clean, everything's fine, it'd all be out there, but it's arrogance."
  • VEEPS ON THE AIR: Potential vice presidential contenders flooded the airwaves yesterday, ABC's Arlette Saenz reports. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. called President Obama a "small politician running on small-ball politics" during her appearance on ABC News' "This Week" while Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., accused the president of "dividing" and "distracting" the country from his record with attacks on Mitt Romney. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell blamed the looming Pentagon budget cuts on President Obama, saying on CNN's State of the Union, "They need to act now to try to address this, because defense contractors might have to send out warning notices in the next couple months to hundreds of thousands of employees saying you might not have a job. So I think the president needs to lead on this, get Congress back, and do something about sequestration."


QUESTION 1: Will Romney release the tax records?

What started as few conservative voices urging Romney to release his taxes has turned into a chorus. On the Sunday shows and in private conversations, the conventional wisdom among Republicans is that Romney hurts himself more by holding onto them then he does by releasing them and taking the short term hits on the contents. As one GOP strategist told The Note, "We don't know what is in them, but Obama can allege whatever he wants without seeing them."

QUESTION 2: Will releasing tax records make the issue go away?

To be sure, if Romney discloses additional years of his returns, the Obama campaign will have tons of new material to mine. And, as we've seen this past week, they are experts at dragging out a storyline beyond its normal political shelf-life. Moreover, there's the risk that putting these records out there raises more questions than it answers.

It's also clear that the Obama campaign's outsourcing attacks against Romney are here to stay. In an interview with a local Portsmouth, Va. television station yesterday, President Obama dismissed his opponent's calls to apologize for attacking his record at Bain Capital.

"No, we won't be apologizing," Obama said. "Sometimes these games are played during political campaigns. Understand what the issues are here: Mr. Romney claims he's Mr. Fix-it for the economy because of his business experience, so I think voters entirely legitimately want to know what is exactly his business experience."

While the president was holding the line on the issue, his team in Chicago was doubling down. In a new memo released this morning, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt writes:

"While Romney has repeatedly tried to distance himself from Bain's decisions after February 1999, he has also hypocritically taken credit for jobs created well after the 1999 end date that he cites. He can't have it both ways. … This week, Mitt Romney has the opportunity to provide a full accounting of his tenure at Bain Capital, the central premise of his campaign and the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not he was the job creator he claims to be."

And, there's no sign that the media is ready to give up digging into Romney's Bain record either.

QUESTION 3: Will Team Obama's attacks backfire?

Obama's greatest asset is his likability. The more he runs a traditionally negative campaign the harder it is going to be for him to hold onto that aura. At the end of the day, if this race is about two typical politicians running a typical campaign, the better opportunity for Romney. He needs this race to be fought on the country's economic performance, not personality.

CHANGING THE SUBJECT: Two releases from the Romney campaign:

-"Today, Romney Campaign Senior Adviser Ed Gillespie and National Press Secretary Andrea Saul will host a background briefing call on President Obama's Political Payoffs and Middle Class Layoffs."

-"Senator Rob Portman will visit the Lebanon Victory Center, address Romney for President campaign supporters, and offer remarks on President Obama's visit to Cincinnati. A media availability will take place following Senator Portman's remarks."

ABC's JAKE TAPPER reported for "Good Morning America" today on the back-and-forth attacks leveled by the Obama and Romney campaigns. He also previewed President Obama's message to voters at a campaign appearance later today in Ohio: "Later today at a town hall meeting in Cincinatti, Ohio, President Obama will say that Mitt Romney's economic proposals will result in up to 800,000 jobs sent overseas, out-sourced." WATCH:


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Retroactivity isn't such a bad concept for the Romney campaign these days. But until or unless they can go back to before the Bain attacks began, Romney and his aides are facing their roughest stretch of the summer - with every day he's talking about his own finances and business record time not spent on the Obama economy. The now-bipartisan push for him to release more taxes poses an intriguing test for Team Romney: It's in the candidate's power to end this particular clamor - though, of course, he risks creating a brand new one when the details are revealed. (NOTED: Don't miss Rick's political insights column: )


RAHM TO MITT: 'STOP WHINING.' Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week": "What are you going to do when the Chinese leader says something to you or Putin says something to you? Going to whine it away? You cannot do that. And as Mitt Romney said once to his own Republican colleagues, stop whining. I give him his own advice. Stop whining. Defend - if you want to claim Bain Capital as your calling card to the White House, then defend what happened to Bain Capital and what happened to those jobs that went overseas, those jobs that were actually cut and eliminated, the companies that went into bankruptcy."

CARVILLE: 'DEATH PENALTY' FOR PENN STATE WOULD BE DUMB. James Carville, from ABC's "This Week" roundtable: "This is awful, gut-wrenching. And people I really respect are talking about the 'death penalty' for Penn State football. That is a really dumb idea. Lives have been ruined =, so the answer to that-let's go out and ruin more lives? Let's take a kid who's a football player who was in the second grade when this happened and let's suspend the program. Who knows what he's going to do with his education?"

VIDEO OF THE WEEKEND: GOP GOV CALLS ON ROMNEY TO RELEASE TAX RETURNS. ABC's Michael Falcone and Arlette Saenz report from the National Governors Association Conference in Williamsburg, Va.: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, in an interview with ABC News on Saturday, called on presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney to release his tax returns in order to show voters that he has "nothing to hide." "I just believe in total transparency," Bentley told ABC News. "In fact, I was asked today that question - do you think that Governor Romney should release his tax returns? And I said I do. I said, I release my tax returns. I may be the only public official in Alabama that does, but I release mine every year and I just believe that people should release their tax returns. And if you get them out and just get past that, it just makes it so much easier." Bentley, who took office in 2001, warned that failure to do so would continue to open the door for the Obama campaign and their Democratic allies to "cause distractions away from the real issue in this campaign and that's the economy." WATCH:

REPUBLICAN GOVERNOR'S MESSAGE TO MITT: DON'T LET OBAMA LEAD YOU DOWN THE 'RABBIT HOLE' Fresh off his win in Wisconsin's divisive recall election, GOP Gov. Scott Walker was full of advice for Mitt Romney. "We had significant swing votes - independents, even some discerning Democrats voting for me because they like someone who was willing to take on the tough issues facing our state," Walker said. "I think those same sorts of voters are voters that Governor Romney at least has a shot with." But Walker, who was among the dozens of governors who gathered at this weekend's National Governors Association Conference in central Virginia, warned that a win in his Midwestern battleground would not be a slam dunk for Romney."Coming into Wisconsin, coming into Iowa, coming into other states like that, for him to do well the 'R' next to his name has to stand more than just for 'Republican' - it has to stand for reformer," Walker said, adding: "If people view him as a reformer, willing to take on both the economic and fiscal crisis our nation faces, I think voters in swing states like Wisconsin will listen."

But after a week when the vitriol of the presidential race spiked as both sides accused the other of peddling lies and distortions, another swing-state governor, Virginia's Bob McDonnell, cautioned Romney not to let the Obama campaign set the terms of the debate. "Mitt Romney can't - he's not going to - respond to every single lame attack that the Obama administration makes," McDonnell said in interview with ABC News. "If he starts to run down every rabbit hole the Obama administration wants to take him, we're going to be off the message."


with Chris Good ( @c_good)

PAGING SARAH PALIN. ABC's Shushannah Walshe and Matt Negrin report: Last May, a cult-like throng of journalists chased Sarah Palin and her bus along the East Coast, eager that she'd drop the slightest of hints that would answer an almost fanatical question: Was she jumping into the GOP primary? This weekend she gave a speech in front of hundreds of supporters, revving them up with some of her favorite lines - blasting both President Obama and "crony capitalism" and calling the "bitter clingers" to action. … SarahPAC is still a secretive organization, but those willing to lift the veil a bit say she's actively taking a step back and not much is going on inside. What's not clear is if they are gearing up for attack or if she will stay in the background. Even her chief of staff has left, ABC News has learned. Michael Glassner was hired last February and it set off a flurry of early will-she-won't-she run headlines. He recently left Sarah PAC because there just wasn't enough for him to do, according to several sources knowledgeable of the inner workings of the organization. They are still fundraising, though. According to their Federal Election Commission filing Friday they raised $780,000 over the past three months. That's up from only $388,000 they raised in the first three months of the year.

JESSE JACKSON JR.: DOWN BUT NOT OUT. "It's very premature to write off the political career of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.)-at an undisclosed location getting treated for a serious 'mood disorder,'" reports the Chicago Sun Times' Lynn Sweet. "He has $246,625 in his political warchest as of June 30-a virtually unknown GOP opponent running in a heavily Democratic district with no political cash and a savvy top political strategist-his wife. 'We haven't hit the $5,000 mark yet,' GOP nominee Brian Woodworth told me Sunday. Woodworth, an associate professor of criminal justice at Illinois Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, has not even raised or spent enough -$5,000-to trigger having to file a report with the Federal Election Commission. Even all the national attention on Jackson's disappearance-has not translated right away into political donations, Woodworth told me. 'We haven't had any money come in yet. We do have a number of promises,' he said."

PAPER TRAIL: ROMNEY'S BAIN TIMELINE. The New York Times' Nicholas Confessore and Michael Shear explain: "[Romney's] leave was originally characterized as part time, and he told The Boston Herald in 1999 that he would be providing input on investment and personnel decisions in his absence. Campaign and company officials now say that the Olympics job quickly became all-consuming and that Mr. Romney delegated his management power …"

ED GILLESPIE: ROMNEY RETIRED 'RETROACTIVELY.' From The Washington Post's Matt DeLong: "'He took a leave of absence and, in fact, Candy, he ended up not going back at all and retired retroactively to February of 1999 as a result,' [senior Romney campaign advisor Ed] Gillespie said [on CNN's "State of the Union]."

MCDONNELL BLASTS OBAMA AD AS 'SILLY,' 'PREDICTABLE.' Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia took a shot at the Obama campaign on Saturday for its new television ad featuring Mitt Romney's off-key rendition of the song, "America the Beautiful." … "It's silly, it's predictable, and it's not accurate. Many of the things he's claiming that he's attributing to Mitt Romney about outsourcing has things to do with allegations about Bain investments after Mitt Romney went to run the Olympics," McDonnell said.

GOP GOVS WARM UP TO ONLINE SALES TAXES. The Wall Street Journal's Monica Langley reports: "Republican governors, eager for new revenue to ease budget strains, are dropping their longtime opposition to imposing sales taxes on online purchases, a significant political shift that could soon bring an end to tax-free sales on the Internet. … The movement picked up an important ally when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie-widely mentioned as a potential vice-presidential candidate-recently reached an agreement under which Amazon would collect sales taxes on his state's online purchases in exchange for locating distribution facilities there." NvJb9F

RON PAUL'S DELEGATE INSURGENCY ENDS IN NEBRASKA. Supporters of the libertarian GOP presidential candidate fell short at the Nebraska GOP convention, where they had hoped to out-organize Mitt Romney's delegates and push Paul over a critical threshold that would have ensured him an official presence and speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. As the last state where Republicans will hold a convention in which delegates are up for grabs, Nebraska represented the last chance for Paul's supporters.

JOHN BOEHNER RAKES IN THE CASH. Politico's Jake Sherman reports: "Speaker John Boehner is the $80 million man. That's roughly how much the Ohio Republican has brought in for House Republicans and GOP candidates since taking the speaker's gavel, according to his political team. The announcement comes as Boehner's campaign committee announced that it raised roughly $1.6 million in the second quarter of 2012. Boehner's political team says all of its fundraising arms-the speaker has several-raised a total of $8.3 million between April and July."

DEMS LEVERAGE THE 'FISCAL CLIFF.' The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery reports: "Democrats are making increasingly explicit threats about their willingness to let nearly $600 billion worth of tax hikes and spending cuts take effect in January unless Republicans drop their opposition to higher taxes for the nation's wealthiest households. … "If we can't get a good deal, a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share, then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013," [Washington senator and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty] Murray plans to say [Monday], according to excerpts of the speech provided to The Washington Post."

ROMNEY GEARS UP IN THE SUNSHINE STATE. The Orlando Sentinel's Scott Powers takes a look at Romney's volunteer operation in Florida: "The Romney campaign is opening campaign offices across the state and cranking up phone banks-all focused on what the campaign says is a sure-fire motivational tool: President Obama … Romney is gearing up rapidly-he has 23 offices in the state, compared with Obama's 36 …"


-NEW ANTI-OBAMA FILM DEBUTS: "An anti-Obama documentary featuring an interview with the president's half brother opened in a single theater in Texas over the weekend and, despite alleged complaints from some consumers who were upset with the film's content, it grossed an estimated $31,750, a strong showing for any independent release," the Hollywood Reporter reports. "The film, 2016: Obama's America, based on conservative author Dinesh D'Souza's book The Roots of Obama's Rage, had a free, promotional screening at Edwards Houston Marq'E Stadium 23 & Imax on Thursday. Management had planned to show it in one of its medium-sized auditoriums, but bumped it to one the multiplex's largest rooms and turned away 200 people."

-MOVEON MEMBERS TO PROTEST ROMNEY: Happening today in Baton Rouge: "MoveOn members will show up outside a Romney fundraiser here Monday to demand that he stop hiding tax returns that could shed more light on the issue. Political Action members will hold signs and a banner demanding that Romney release returns going back to 1999. President Obama has released his recent returns, and Romney's own father released 12 years of tax returns when he ran for president."


? @FixAaron : . @JeffZeleny says friends believe Romney has decided on a VP and may announce this week.

@samsteinhp: Contra the current talking pt. John Kerry released more than two yrs of tax returns

@mckaycoppins : Romney campaign memo points to polling averages showing the race tighter now than it was in April. But what will they look like next week?

@shiratoeplitz : YG Action Super PAC raised $5.3 million in Q2. So what are they doing to do with that money? My @rollcall story

@ethanklapper : A rare story about Romney's death penalty policy in Massachusetts


-President Obama holds a town hall meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio.

-Mitt Romney holds fundraisers in Louisiana and Mississippi.

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