Barraged with questions about his tenure at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney fired back on Friday in five national television interviews and repeated his assertion that he left the Boston private equity firm in 1999 and not years later as some company documents indicate.
“The truth is that I left any role at Bain Capital in February of 1999” and “relinquished all management authority,” Romney said in an interview with CNN.
Questions about his role at Bain, which reaped lucrative dividends from some companies that laid off workers and faced bankruptcy after 1999, have escalated since the Globe reported Thursday that documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission listed Romney as chief executive, president, chairman, and sole stockholder as late as 2002.
Romney has said he stopped all management duties at Bain in 1999 when he left for Salt Lake City to organize the 2002 Winter Olympics, which had been beset by scandal and dire financial trouble.
“There’s a difference between being a shareholder — an owner, if you will — and being a person who’s running an entity,” the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said on CNN from his vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H.
“I think anybody who knows I was out full time running the Olympics would understand that’s where I was: I spent three years running the Olympic Games, and after that was over, we worked out our retirement program, our departure-official program, for Bain Capital, and handed over the shares I had,” Romney said.
Romney’s round-robin of five television interviews, his first attempt to directly address his departure from Bain since the Globe report, escalated the intensity of the presidential campaign and followed a series of blistering attacks from the Obama reelection team.
On Thursday, Stephanie Cutter, the president’s deputy campaign manager, said that Romney either was “misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony,” or was “misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.”
Romney explicitly assailed President Obama and his campaign for the attacks, which he called an attempt to divert attention from the nation’s stagnant economy.
But when pressed, he stopped short of calling the president a liar. He did, however, ask for an apology.
“Is this the level that the Obama campaign is willing to stoop to? Is this up to the standards expected of the presidency of the United States?” he asked. “It’s disgusting, it’s demeaning, it’s something which I think the president should take responsibility for and stop.”
On ABC News, Romney said that “the president needs to take control of these people. He ought to disavow it and rein in these people who are running out of control.”
Earlier, Obama said in an interview in Virginia that Romney “absolutely” should answer questions about when he relinquished control at Bain Capital.
“My understanding is that Mr. Romney attested to the SEC, multiple times, that he was the chairman, CEO, and president of Bain Capital, and I think most Americans figure if you are the chairman, CEO, and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does,” Obama said. “Mr. Romney, I think, is going to have to answer those questions because if he aspires to being president, one of the things you learn is you are ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations. . . . I think that’s a legitimate part of the campaign.”
By hammering away on Romney’s business record, which the Obama campaign insists was focused on creating personal wealth instead of jobs, the president might have found a way to gain some separation in what has been a razor-close race.
A new USA Today/Gallup poll shows Obama leading Romney, 47 percent to 45 percent, in battleground states, and that his ads are swaying voters. Eight percent of voters said political ads had changed their minds, and three-quarters of that group now support the president. Romney’s ads persuaded 16 percent of those voters to support the former governor.
Negative ads against Romney, which include those attacking his time at Bain, have been seen by nearly two-thirds of voters, the poll found.
Several media and fact-checkers, however, have addressed the issue and found there is no clear evidence that Romney had operational connections with Bain after 1999.
The questions about Romney’s links with Bain are part of a fusillade of recent attacks on a candidate who touts his business acumen as the best antidote to the country’s economic problems. Romney has been hit with questions about family funds in Bermuda, Switzerland, and the secretive Cayman Islands, and whether companies in which Bain invested had expanded by creating jobs overseas.
In the CNN interview, Romney said he would not release any additional tax returns beyond the 2010 and 2011 forms.
“I know that there will always be calls for more,” Romney said. “People always want to get more. And, you know, we’re putting out what’s required, plus more that is not required.”
Those two years, he added, are “all that’s necessary to understand my finances.”
Democrats are certain to continue to hammer away at Romney’s wealth, which has been estimated to be as high as $250 million, as a sign of disconnect from the financial concerns of average Americans.
Romney, however, used the appearances on national television to attack Obama again on jobs, the issue he is citing relentlessly as he travels the country.
“The president has been a failure when it comes to reigniting the American economy,” Romney said, citing a run of more than 40 consecutive months with unemployment above 8 percent.Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at macquarrie@