Did Mitt Romney Commit a Federal Felony?

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event at the Wings Over the Roc
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Ben Ginsberg, long-time Republican lawyer and one of Washington's "most powerful, least famous people," told reporters today that Mitt Romney, "in the next five weeks," would be articulating further details about his so far under-articulated tax policy -- a proposal that VP candidate Paul Ryan said would take "too long" to explain (though Ezra Klein did it in 131 words).

But the area that really needs articulating is not Mitt Romney's tax plan. The Tax Policy Center already calculated that Romney would have to raise taxes on the middle-class, at the very least, to meet his stated goals.

No... the one outstanding question that deserves to be asked during tonight's debate, but won't, is this: Did Romney participate in a 2009 IRS amnesty program for tax frauds?

For years, the IRS has had a policy that allows tax evaders holding money in off-shore accounts to come forward voluntarily to avoid jail time, on the condition they pay back taxes, in addition to interest and major penalties. Fewer than 100 people a year availed themselves of this privilege, that is, until 2008, when a whistleblower at a UBS branch in Switzerland told the IRS that thousands of American clients held unreported accounts in the overseas bank.

Consequently, in February 2009, the Swiss banking giant was forced to pay $780 million to the federal agency, confess to criminal wrongdoing in "selling offshore banking services" that had "enabled tax evasion," and hand over about 4,450 American clients suspected of fraud.

In total, about 14,700 Americans turned themselves in. Disdainfully (but unsurprisingly), the IRS allowed these non-disclosing tax frauds to avoid imprisonment (of up to five years), as long as they complied with the previous terms of the amnesty policy. The agency also kept the names anonymous.

We now know, that until 2010, Mitt Romney maintained a Swiss bank account. We don't know much about it, nor any of his other offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands or Bermuda, because Romney has refused to release any full tax returns (except for the one nobody cares about).

As Matt Yglesias deftly observed, Romney was actively running for president in 2007 and 2008, so it's doubtful he was doing anything during those years "that he thought couldn't withstand scrutiny." But why not release tax returns from 2007 and 2008?

Because it looks highly suspicious to disclose returns from 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011, but not 2009. The American public would ask in an instant: What are you hiding?

Well, we don't know for sure, but we can speculate. Or better yet, we can put loads of pressure on our elected leaders and the journos tethered to the campaign to ask Romney what might be the most important question of the electoral season:

Did you participate in a 2009 amnesty program for tax evasion, which, if the IRS wasn't feeling so generous, could have put you behind bars? If you didn't, will you show us your 2009 returns, including the FBAR?

I'm just asking.

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