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Rachel Maddow Pushes Discredited Romney Tax Return Conspiracy Theory...From 2002

"We have found some tape in the archives that may take this fight in a whole new direction."

On last night's Rachel Maddow show, the famously geeky Maddow made a tantalizing tease.

"We have found some tape in the archives that may take this fight in a whole new direction as of tomorrow," Maddow said coyly. "We have got that tape that I think nobody has seen in at least a decade, and we’ve got that story as our lead tomorrow night. We’ve got that incredible tape for you tomorrow night.”

Intriguing stuff, and it certainly intrigued us enough to tune into Maddow's show right at 9 PM tonight to see just what she had gotten. And like any good pundit, Maddow teased her material in fine form, even going so far as to condemn Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for his intemperate remarks about Romney "not paying taxes for 10 years." This speculation, Maddow said, was unbecoming, before going for a segue into her evidence against Romney.

The results were deeply disappointing. Specifically, Maddow went after Romney using two different sets of video evidence (as well as an article) from Romney's 2002 Gubernatorial campaign in Massachusetts. Maddow's argument, similarly, was two-fold - firstly, that Romney had done exactly what Reid is doing now back when Romney ran in 2002, by questioning the decision by then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shannon O'Brien not to release her husband's tax returns. Maddow has since posted this snippet of the article in question on her blog:

One day after balking at releasing his own tax returns, Republican Mitt Romney's campaign yesterday accused Democrat Shannon O'Brien of covering up her husband's past lobbying work, including his ties to failed energy giant Enron.

"Her hands aren't clean,'' said Romney deputy campaign manager Eric Fehrnstrom of O'Brien's release of her tax return but not the filings of her husband, longtime lobbyist R. Emmett Hayes. "She can't claim to be disclosing anything until she discloses the returns of her husband, the Enron lobbyist. Under Shannon O'Brien, the state Pension Board lost millions by buying Enron stock when it was collapsing - what is she hiding?''

Now, Maddow's point - that what's good for the goose is good for the gander - would be well-taken, but for one crucial distinction. That is that unlike Harry Reid, Romney's attack, as detailed above, was not based on wild speculation. O'Brien's husband, Mr. Hayes, was a well-known lobbyist for a company that was under investigation for one of the worst financial scandals in recent history. Thus, given that there was evidence of his proximity to a crime - a crime that was alleged to have occurred not just by one unidentified source, but by the United States Government - the question about his returns might be considered slightly more valid than demanding Romney's returns based on nothing but hearsay from a former unnamed colleague. Moreover, asking the question of what this someone's tax returns might be hiding is a very different concept than pulling unproven hypotheses out of thin air about that peron filing them at all. So Maddow's comparison is, put charitably, one of apples-to-oranges.

But moreover, the brief clip that Maddow played of Romney pointing out that O'Brien's husband hadn't released his returns in a September 24, 2002 GOP debate was, as she herself later inadvertently showed, out of context. Romney did not, in fact, call on O'Brien's husband to release his tax returns out of the blue, but instead to make a point about the value of privacy in response to a question about his (Romney's) own tax returns. So really, Romney was agreeing with Maddow's framing, that what was good for the goose was good for the gander, and that if he should be free from suspicion, a known lobbyist for Enron should be free from suspicion. Listening comprehension appears to have hit a new low at MSNBC.

But Maddow wasn't finished. In fact, she hadn't even really gotten started. She had a bigger item to push, you see, and wanted to make sure we all heard it. Specifically, Maddow charged Romney with lying about his residency in Massachusetts in 2002, and waiting right up until days before the election to admit that the "lie" in question was a "lie" and re-file his tax returns, retroactively making him a citizen of Massachusetts.

Quite a revelation. And if Romney really did wait until days before the election reveal this apparent "lie," then it should be cause for concern. In fact, you'd expect the issue of his residency to come up in the gubernatorial debates of the time, wouldn't you? Yet mysteriously, it doesn't.

Why? Because Romney's residency did not, in fact, take until right before the election to resolve. Rather, it was resolved in June of 2002. From a Boston Globe article dated June 7, 2002:

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Mitt Romney contradicted his previous public statements yesterday, and said for the first time that he did not file Massachusetts income tax returns for 1999 and 2000 as a resident of this state.

At a news conference, Romney said that he filed as a part-year resident for 1999 and a nonresident for 2000. He amended those returns, claiming Massachusetts resident status, on April 2, a week after he announced he was running for governor of Massachusetts and four days before the state Republican convention that endorsed his candidacy.[...]

Earlier in the week, he rejected a request by the Globe for copies of his returns with financial information redacted, but his residential status visible. A Romney spokesman insisted at that time the GOP candidate had filed his returns as a Massachusetts resident, but told the Globe reporter, “You’re going to have to take my word for it.”

The chief counsel for the state Democratic party says the chances are “better-than-50-50” that the party will file a challenge to Romney’s residency today. The threats of a challenge brought scorn from Romney.

“Go ahead and make my day,” he said at the press conference. “It’s a high-stakes game for someone to challenge me on the basis of residency.”

And as it turns out, that high stakes game was played. The Democrats did, in fact, challenge Romney's residency, claiming that he'd intentionally lied about living in Massachusetts, when his primary place of living had really been in Utah. Like Reid, Obama and Maddow today, they banked on it either knocking Romney out of contention or damaging him irrecoverably.

...It didn't:

His uncontested march to the Republican nomination soon hit a roadblock when the Massachusetts Democratic Party challenged his candidacy, contending Romney's three years in Utah disqualified him because the Massachusetts Constitution requires seven years of residency before the election.

Initially, Romney's campaign insisted that he had filed his federal income taxes as a resident of Massachusetts. But soon after, he acknowledged he had filed as a Utah resident for two years and had amended those tax returns after announcing his candidacy to show Massachusetts as his home.[...]

Over three days in June, the state Ballot Law Commission heard evidence about his tax returns and the fact that the Romneys' Utah home had been classified as his "primary residence," giving him an $18,000 property-tax break each of three years.

Romney attributed the mistakes to his accountant and the local tax assessor, who under oath acknowledged the error and after the commission proceedings sent him a new bill to recoup $54,587.

If the tax filings suggested Romney was hedging his political bets, the evidence also showed he always maintained his Belmont voting address - choosing George W. Bush over John McCain in the 2000 Republican presidential primary, he recently said - and had returned for special occasions while in Utah, maintaining ties to Bay State boards and organizations.

"He never severed his ties to Massachusetts," and "his testimony was credible in all respects," the board concluded in a unanimous, 41-page decision.

The assault on Romney brought him sympathy, and he accused Democrats of "ridiculous, dirty politics."

This is the big, scary lie that Maddow claims Romney committed regarding his tax returns? If so, he should "lie" like this more often - it apparently gets him voter sympathy and makes official government institutions exonerate him unanimously.

Which brings us to the point Maddow was trying to make with this story: That Romney's behavior now is exactly like his behavior then, and since he "lied" then, we should believe he's "lying" now.

This doesn't follow logically, but for the sake of irony, let's take her at her word. If 2002 parallels 2012 the way Maddow believes, then it would seem that since Romney was the target of an unfair inquisition surrounding his taxes in 2002, only to be totally exonerated of any wrongdoing and get voter sympathy, it would follow logically that he is also the target of an unfair inquisition surrounding his taxes now, and that he will be totally exonerated of any wrongdoing and get voter sympathy as a result of that inquisition now, as well.

Congratulations, Ms. Maddow, you have just made a very strong argument for the Democratic party to drop this subject.

UPDATE: Mediaite flags a third part of Maddow's attack on Romney, pointing out that Romney vacillated on the issue of releasing his tax returns in 2002, saying he'd be willing to do it if Ted Kennedy, at the time his last serious political opponent, was willing to release his:

Rachel Maddow took a look into Mitt Romney‘s political past tonight to explain just how Romney has gone back-and-forth on the issue of releasing tax returns, from his failed 1994 bid to unseat Ted Kennedy to his successful run for Massachusetts governor in 2002 to the current presidential race. She highlighted an offer Romney made in 1994 to release his returns after Kennedy did, an offer which an advisor said was still valid eight years later, and wondered if the offer was still on the table.[...]

Maddow highlighted a quote by Romney advisor Eric Fehrnstrom in 2002, after Romney said he would not release his tax returns, in which Fehrnstrom said of the 1994 deal with Kennedy: “We’ve been waiting eight years and the offer still stands.” Maddow tried to make some sense of this logic.

“That was the only condition under which Romney would release his tax returns? His opponent releasing her tax returns wasn’t enough, all his Democratic opponents releasing their tax returns wasn’t enough, getting caught lying about his tax returns in relation to his Massachusetts residency wasn’t enough, but eight years after he ran against Ted Kennedy for Senate, when he was running in a totally different race, to which Ted Kennedy was totally irrelevant, the release of Ted Kennedy’s tax returns would be the trigger for Mitt Romney to release his returns? Why?”

Watch Maddow's segment here:

This segment appeared pointless to respond to at the time, simply because Maddow highlighting a rather odd 10-year-old request seems entirely too petty to even comment on, and besides, it is highly unlikely that Romney holds a grudge against the now dead Senator Kennedy 18 years after that past race. However, to quickly use Maddow's legalistic style of thinking, even if the offer were "still open," it would be only for the tax returns prior to 2002 (when the offer was made), and what exactly would the Democrats expect to learn from tax returns that originate from years when Romney was drawing a salary at Bain Capital, which would be taxed, regardless of offshore accounts or other investments?

Either way, it hardly matters. In all likelihood, the "deal" is off the table, a fact about which Maddow et al should not attempt to complain. After all, it's not as though other Presidential candidates have abandoned promises they made in past campaigns or anything.

One last thing…
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