Friday, Aug. 3, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Mitt Romney told Harry Reid to “put up or shut up” Thursday in an attempt to silence the Nevada senator’s recent, rabid spate of accusations that Romney isn’t releasing his tax returns because there are years he paid no taxes at all.
Reid did neither. Instead, he issued a statement quadrupling down on his allegations.
“As I said before, I was told by an extremely credible source that Romney has not paid taxes for 10 years,” Reid said. “People who make as much money as Mitt Romney have many tricks at their disposal to avoid paying taxes ... It’s clear Romney is hiding something, and the American people deserve to know what it is.”
The chorus of prominent politicians calling on Romney to release his tax returns includes Democrats and Republicans, but none so determined — or making such damning charges — as Reid.
While he won’t reveal his source, Reid has only grown more confident in his accusations about Romney’s tax returns since he first started levying them in floor speeches and interviews a few weeks ago.
“I think he’s honestly performing as an attack dog for the campaign, and I think he’s doing a marvelous job,” said Dan Hart, a Democratic strategist in Las Vegas. “Romney’s put himself in a very bad position where Reid can throw these things out there, and he can’t refute them without putting out his tax returns ... it’s pretty crafty.”
Reid did open himself up to some ridicule for pushing claims backed up only by an unnamed source. On the Daily Show, host Jon Stewart ran a five-minute segment labeling Reid a “terrible person.”
“Here’s a rule of thumb, if you have to follow your claim with ‘I don’t know if that’s true,’ then shut up,” Stewart said. “Should Mitt Romney release his tax returns? Of course. But him not doing the right thing doesn’t give you license to do the wrong thing.”
Romney has released two years of tax returns, from 2010 and 2011, showing he paid about a 14 percent tax rate. But he’s refused to go any further back in time — or release returns from any year before he decided to make a bid for the White House.
Reid isn’t the only one suggesting Romney may have avoided tithing any part of his income to the Treasury department. A recent campaign ad for President Barack Obama made the same suggestion. But Reid’s made it more pointedly, with the help of his unnamed source, because he has less to lose.
“Unfortunately, Harry Reid has a reputation for doing this, and the fact that there have been a number of media inquiries about what he said, shows that it was somewhat effective,” Republican consultant Robert Uithoven said. “Think of the comments he made about Obama ... he called the former President Bush a loser in front of school kids. He’s one of these guys that shoots from the hip, and he has a reputation for saying these kinds of things without any kind of backups.
“If the IRS had any evidence that (Romney) hasn’t paid taxes, they would be after him,” Uithoven added. “It’s just a political ploy that he may have to respond to through the rest of the campaign.”
Late Thursday, Reid wasn’t the only one sticking his neck out on the line with the accusation. CNN reported that they too had an unnamed source who could confirm Reid’s allegations.
Even if Reid’s source is wrong, however, there may not be much for him to lose by making these attacks.
“Let’s say (Romney) releases his returns, and Reid is wrong: He doesn’t have zero. Reid can just come back and say, 'Well why didn’t you show that to us in the beginning?'” Hart said. “People will remember that. They’re not going to remember what Reid said somebody told him ... maybe that’ll be an issue four years from now. But the issue today is, there’s a presidential election.”
In the meantime, one thing is clear: Until Romney either releases his returns or they are otherwise leaked, this promises to remain an increasingly vicious game of he said-he said.
“I’m sure Mitt Romney’s going to hear this question until Election Day. And if it’s not the issue of how many years of tax returns that he releases, well now it’ll be another figure on Capitol Hill who says you should release more,” Uithoven said. “I don’t think Harry Reid really has much interest in poring over Mitt Romney’s tax returns. He’s just trying to create a political issue. And it works.”