What Romney's Hiding: 'It's the Amnesty, Stupid'

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participates in a Univision "Meet the Candidates"
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participates in a Univision "Meet the Candidates" forum with Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas in Coral Gables, Fla., Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Why does the press feign puzzlement about what Romney is hiding by not revealing his 2009 tax returns?

He has already revealed the extent of his foreign bank accounts, the approximate amount of his holdings and two years of taxes that are less than the middle class pays. Even if he had paid zero in some years, that is already baked into the political cake.

His disclosure of his 2010 account omitted information about his Swiss bank account at the Union Bank of Switzerland (UBS). Why is the press not asking for this form? UBS was fined $760 million for putting Americans into abusive tax shelters and forced to reveal more than 4000 Americans who banked with them under numbered accounts.

The 4000+ Americans who were exposed by UBS were offered amnesty from criminal prosecution for tax evasion if they closed their Swiss Account, recalculated and paid all back taxes and paid a 25 percent penalty on the largest amount.

Romney closed his UBS account in the time required. He did not close his other foreign accounts.

With strong circumstantial evidence (see below), should not the press be peppering Romney with questions about amnesty, and, if he says no, ask him for any alternative explanation why he closed the UBS account, why he did it at that time, and whether he would allow the IRS Commissioner to verify, or not, that Romney is telling the truth?

I first wrote about amnesty on July 12, then again on July 15, and then Slate took it up on July 17. As more evidence has piled up, I have added articles here and here and here and here and here.

But, so far as I can tell, with the exception of an occasional mention by Lawrence O'Donnell himself on his program, The Last Word, there are no voices with substantially more bandwidth than mine that are asking the obvious amnesty question, even as it has become obvious-er and obvious-er.

One can understand why the Obama campaign and White House has not raised amnesty. It would be turned against them because, despite the logic that leads inexorably to the conclusion that Romney likely received amnesty, the right-wing would attack the White House for obtaining confidential IRS information, much like the George HW Bush did from State Department records about candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. The same may be true of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).

To review, here is the circumstantial evidence:
i) Romney closed ONLY his Swiss UBS Account, not Caymans or Bermuda or Luxembourg. Hence, he cannot claim "bad optics for a campaign" as the alternative explanation;
ii) Romney closed the UBS account during the time required to receive amnesty;
iii) Romney omitted from his public disclosure of his 2010 returns the specific information about the UBS account;
iv) Romney took six extra months to prepare his 2011 returns, disclosing them in the countdown to the election, whereas he could have disclosed 2009 immediately with 2010, getting all that bad news out at once, during the primary, so that it would be ancient history by now. That is strong evidence that 2009, that would have shown the amnesty with flashing lights, was too toxic.

The press should be pressing for answers to each of these questions, as well as the over-arching question of amnesty. Otherwise, there is a real chance that a man who committed a federal crime and received amnesty could be occupying the nation's highest office.

If this were a court of law, the evidence above uncontradicted by alternative, plausible explanations, would be enough to conclude (more probably than not, or even beyond a reasonable doubt) that Romney received amnesty.

There is also some "softer" evidence. Why do the Romneys keep insisting that their finances were all handled by a blind trust? If they have done nothing wrong, why even mention it?

The trustee, moreover, is their personal attorney. Does it not strain credulity that they really operated blindly? Why bother to make those assertions when no one is accusing the Romneys of using any position he had to feather his nest, the reason to have a blind trust in the first place? It seems more of a set-up disclaimer about having anything to do with the account for which he received amnesty -- "the trustee did it".

Along with the Romneys' 2011 disclosure, their so-called blind trustee, Brad Malt, issued a cover letter that itself raises some questions. As Pullitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston has pointed out, Malt states that the Romneys "owed" taxes in each year, and then indicates that, for the 20 year period, the Romneys paid 100 percent of what was owed.

That seems to be a strange way of conveying the Romneys' taxes. Why did Malt have to say "owed" on an annual basis, but reverted to "paid" in the aggregate? That is, why did he not simply write that the Romneys "paid" taxes in each year? Perhaps this is too nitpicking, but it seems to convey that the Romneys owed the taxes, and they paid them, but not necessarily when they were owed. That would be consistent with a situation in which they engaged in abusive tax shelters in Switzerland, then were outed, and did what was required to receive amnesty -- revised their tax returns, and paid them along with a 25 percent penalty all at once.

One should not over-read Malt's statement. After all, he is an attorney and an attorney's job is to present their client in the best possible light while being careful (so as not to be disbarred) from conveying a lie. If this were the only basis for wondering about whether Romney received amnesty, it would not be strong.

But, this interpretation of the soft evidence is consistent with the strong circumstantial evidence that this is all related to the Romneys' amnesty.

There may be alternative explanations for each of these observations. "Occam's Razor" is a principle of logic that teaches us to choose as the most likely explanation that which requires the fewest assumptions.

Romney's "amnesty" is the single assumption that satisfies Occam's Razor regarding Romney's aversion to releasing his 2009 and earlier tax documents.

(For those who wish to ask the Romney campaign directly, you can write to returns@mittromney.com. I did. I urge you to write so that they can see how many people want to know, but I would not hold your breath for a reply.)