Susan Walsh, File, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Documents filed by Mitt Romney's former company conflict with the Republican presidential candidate's statements about when he gave up control of the private equity firm Bain Capital. President Barack Obama's campaign seized on the discrepancies Thursday to charge that Romney was lying about his background.
Romney, in turn, said Obama was the one being dishonest, rolling out a hard-hitting television ad that accused the president of launching "misleading, unfair and untrue" attacks about the Republican's role in outsourcing U.S. jobs.
"When a president doesn't tell the truth, how can we trust him to lead?" the narrator says in the Romney ad titled "No Evidence."
Obama has accused Romney of being an "outsourcing pioneer" who invested in companies that shipped jobs to China, India and elsewhere overseas. But Romney, who has made his business experience the central part of his candidacy, claims he had no role in outsourcing U.S. jobs because much of that activity didn't happen until after 1999, when he says he had given up operational control at Bain.
Both candidates dug in on their positions, dispatching aides to level deeply personal criticisms aimed at casting each opponent as little more than a typical politician. Each candidate is seeking to sully his rival's integrity in hopes of gaining ground in closely contested campaign four months before Election Day. But the strategy carries risks: It could alienate voters — especially critical independents — who are turned off by negative campaigning and want to see the candidates focus on the economy and job growth.
At issue is when Romney left Bain, and whether he was at the helm when it sent jobs overseas.
The documents, filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, place Romney in charge of Bain from 1999 to 2001, a period in which the company outsourced jobs and ran companies that fell into bankruptcy.
Romney has tried to distance himself from this period in Bain's history, saying on financial disclosure forms he had no active role in Bain as of February 1999. Obama has labeled Romney a job killer in hopes of undercutting the Republican's claim that his private business experience gives him the ability to turn around the struggling economy.
But at least three times since then, Bain listed Romney as the company's "controlling person," as well as its "sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president." And one of those documents — as late as February 2001 — lists Romney's "principal occupation" as Bain's managing director.
The Obama campaign called the SEC documents detailing Romney's role post-1999 a "big Bain lie." And Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said the presumptive GOP nominee may have even engaged in illegal activity.
"Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony," Cutter said, "or he is misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments."
Countering, Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades said Cutter's comments marked "a new low" in the campaign and called on the president to apologize for "the out-of-control behavior of his staff, which demeans the office he holds."
After weeks of Bain attacks by Obama, Romney rolled out his new ad alleging dishonesty — a signal that the Democratic criticism may be hurting him.
The ad sought to establish dishonesty as a pattern for Obama, and uses his 2008 Democratic primary rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, to do it. It included a clip of Clinton — now serving Obama as secretary of state — saying, "Shame on you, Barack Obama" and calling on her then-challenger to stop running dishonest ads.
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