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Mitt Romney talks IRS, AP records, Benghazi during interview with Jay Leno

Published: Sunday, May 19 2013 12:05 a.m. MDT

In this March 2012 file photo, then-Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talks with Jay Leno during his appearance on The Tonight Show in Burbank, Calif. Romney appeared on the show Friday, May 17, 2013, to talk about the IRS, Benghazi, seized AP phone records and the 2012 election.

NBC, Paul Drinkwater, Associated Press

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Although the interview was prefaced with a light-hearted tweet from former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, there was nothing light-hearted about the topics Romney tackled during an interview with Jay Leno Friday, in the wake of what The Washington Post called "one of the worst weeks of his time in office" for President Barack Obama.

During the interview, Romney and Leno discussed the IRS apology for targeting conservative groups, the ongoing Benghazi investigation and the Department of Justice's seizure of Associated Press phone records. Each of the burgeoning controversies comes with its own concerns, Romney said, and each needs to be investigated.

Between April and May of 2012, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate phone lines of AP journalists, The Associated Press reported Monday. Although the government said the seizures were necessary for national security reasons and Romney said that can be a good argument, he also cautioned that any time the First Amendment is challenged, it needs to be taken seriously.

The IRS, which apologized May 10 for targeting conservative organizations with words like "tea party" or "patriot" in their names, should also be investigated, Romney said, and in this case, by a special counsel.

There are two main things that need to be a focus in an IRS investigation, Romney said. First, people need to find out answers to questions like whether or not the targeting was appropriate, why it happened and who knew what when. Second, he said, a special counsel needs to investigate whether or not certain individuals were attacked because of their political views or donations.

In May 2012, after an Obama campaign website listed businessman Frank VanderSloot as one of eight Romney donors "with less-than reputable records," research was conducted into VanderSloot's divorce records, and he was audited by the IRS and the Department of Labor. Romney referenced columns by The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan in the interview with Leno, and said the issue isn't whether or not the president made a call to target people or groups, but is rather whether or not Americans can trust that the IRS is independent of politics.

"There's been a breach of trust," Romney said.

Benghazi, which became a point of contention during a presidential debate in 2012, has moved back into the spotlight as information about the administration talking points and Congressional hearings have raised new questions.

Despite the question — courtesy of that 2012 debate — over whether or not the president called Benghazi a terrorist attack, Romney told Leno he doubted the issue would've changed the outcome of the 2012 presidential election either way.

He did say that one of the most important things that needs to be discussed in the wake of the attack in Libya that left Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others dead, though, is whether or not the country is willing to act when Americans — particularly ones serving the country — are in harm's way and face threats like Benghazi.

Although Romney said he wishes he were president, working in the White House and carrying out the plans he set during the campaign, he also said that there are bigger concerns in life than winning or losing elections and that people face bigger challenges every day.

"It's better to win than to lose, but in the scheme of life, losing an election was not the end of the road," Romney said.

Romney's wife Ann, who joined him for the end of the interview, said that while most people in politics use the "spend more time with family" excuse as a cover, the two of them actually are glad to have that time to spend with their family, and joked that if the grandchildren had been old enough to vote, they would've won the election.

Romney joked that if he decided to run again, "I'd be running as a bachelor," and said that out of the possible 2016 Republican candidates, he'll always be partial to his former running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but the candidates he likes the most are simply, "Republicans."

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