Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
Without a doubt, the quote of the weekend was provided by Ed Gillespie, one of Mitt Romney’s top advisors, who tried to explain the candidate’s departure from Bain Capital by noting that he’d “retired retroactively.”
The mockery was immediate and intense on Twitter, even though Gillespie wasn’t technically breaking any new ground. “Retroactive” is actually the correct way to characterize Romney’s retirement from Bain, the result of a 2002 severance agreement that declared February 1999 to be the date of his departure.
Politically, though, Gillespie’s phraseology is problematic for two reasons. One is just the way it sounds – slippery and comically legalistic, sort of like Bill Clinton expounding on the meaning of the word “is,” or John Kerry explaining how he “actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” To the extent the line gets repeated in the days and weeks ahead, it could encourage casual voters who know little or nothing of the Bain story to assume that Romney is trying to cover his tracks for something embarrassing.
The bigger problem is that Gillespie’s full comment draws further attention to an enormous gray area that Romney is pretending doesn’t exist. For a decade, the official Romney line, which he repeated in a CBS interview Friday night, has been that “I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999.” But here’s what Gillespie said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday:
You know there may have been a thought at the time that it could be part time. It was not part time. The Olympics was in a shambles. He took a leave of absence and in fact, Candy, ended up not going back at all and retired retroactively to February 1999 as a result.
Gillespie is basically acknowledging that for some of the time between February 1999, when Romney stepped away from his day-to-day role at Bain to head up the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, and the 2002 date when he actually reached a severance agreement with Bain, Romney attempted to keep a hand in Bain’s activities. As you can tell, Gillespie is doing his best to make it sound like Romney’s part-time Bain engagement was barely a blip on that timeline, but all sorts of information has come to light that suggests it was more than that:
The reason all of this matters is that Romney doesn’t want to be held responsible for some of Bain’s actions between 1999 and 2002 – in particular, the closure of a Kansas City steel plant, which cost 700 workers their jobs, and investments of firms that specialized in offshoring. By claiming he had zero involvement with Bain during his Olympic years, Romney can argue that Democrats are unfairly smearing him by bringing up anything that Bain did in that period.
But as I wrote Friday, Romney’s line is very hard to believe, since he’d taken previous leaves of absence from Bain before accepting the Olympic gig in ’99 and because for most of his Salt Lake tenure, there was no reason to suspect he’d have any immediate political opportunities when the games were over.
All of the available information suggests the road to Romney retroactive retirement didn’t really begin until the middle of 2001. That’s when Romney wrote a curious letter to the Salt Lake Tribune, telling the paper he didn’t want to be identified as pro-choice on abortion. It was obvious what Romney was up to: He’d run as a passionate abortion-rights supporter in Massachusetts in 1994, but with Acting Gov. Jane Swift seemingly settling into her job there, it looked like Romney would have no opening to run for office in the Bay State in 2002. So he was turning his attention to Utah, where it was becoming clear that Republican Gov. Mike Leavitt wouldn’t be running again in 2004 – and where a pro-choice position would make Romney DOA at the all-important state GOP convention.
A few weeks after Romney wrote that letter, he publicly announced that he’d decided not to return to Bain at the conclusion of the Olympics and that he would instead explore his political options in Utah and Massachusetts or work with a nonprofit foundation. And a few months after that, Swift’s standing in Massachusetts collapsed, clearing the way for Romney to triumphantly return to the state after the closing ceremonies, push Swift out of the way, and claim the GOP’s gubernatorial nomination without opposition.
It was in this time, presumably, that Romney’s retroactive retirement was negotiated. There’s a difference between how Romney and Bain characterized their relationship during his first few years in Utah and his final nine months running the Olympics. It suggests that for most of his time in Utah, Romney was planning to return to Bain. And if he was planning to come back, it’s not unreasonable to suspect he maintained some awareness of and involvement in his firm’s activities.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornackiMore Steve Kornacki.
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
Mount Rushmore, South Dakota, U.S.
Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
Colosseum, Rome, Italy
Taj Mahal, Agra, India
Siena Cathedral, Siena, Italy
Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Arc de Triomphe, Paris, France
Lost City of Petra, Jordan
Alex Pareene surveys the burgeoning and bloated world of political news and opinion and explains the day's most essential story in Opening Shot, posted by 8:30 a.m. each weekday. Bookmark this page; follow @pareene on Twitter.