President Obama, Mitt Romney campaigns keep sparring over Bain, tax returns, outsourcing

President Obama’s reelection campaign continued Sunday to hammer Mitt Romney on tax returns, outsourcing, and the length of his tenure at Bain Capital, rejecting the Republican challenger’s demand that Obama apologize for his team’s suggestion that Romney might have committed a felony.

“He’s not going to get an apology,” Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

It was Cutter who prompted the demand with a comment she made Thursday, after the Globe reported that Securities and Exchange Commission filings and decade-old financial disclosure documents indicate Romney remained the sole owner and chief executive of his private equity firm until 2002.

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Now the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Romney claimed on a financial disclosure form submitted last month that since Feb. 11, 1999—the date he took charge of the Salt Lake City Olympics—he “has not had any active role with any Bain Capital entity and has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way.”

Cutter said Thursday on a conference call with reporters that Romney was either “misrepresenting his own position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people.”

Though she refused to apologize, Cutter sought to soften her statement Sunday.

“You said if he misled the Securities and Exchange Commission, he was guilty of a felony,” “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer said.

Cutter responded by saying: No, I said, ‘which would be a felony.’ ”

Obama adviser David Axelrod added in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the campaign is “not suggesting that based on what we know that he’s done anything illegal.”

The timing of Romney’s departure from Bain Capital is politically significant because he has disclaimed responsibility for any dealings that led to layoffs, bankruptcies, or outsourcing after February 1999.

Reports about Romney’s continued control over the private equity firm, at least on paper, have raised questions about whether he can legitimately wipe his hands clean of all Bain Capital transactions after that time.

And they have added to the growing furor over Romney’s unwillingness to offer voters a more complete picture of his finances by releasing additional tax returns.

Romney’s 2010 tax return, which he released in January, showed some of his vast wealth is tied to offshore assets—a fact the Obama campaign has used to bolster its argument that as president Romney would look out for affluent Americans with exotic finances, instead of middle-class workers.

Axelrod noted that Romney furnished John McCain with 23 years of tax returns in 2008, when he was being vetted as a potential running mate for McCain, and that McCain chose Sarah Palin over Romney. Axelrod said, based on McCain’s decision, he can only conclude “that whatever is in those returns would be more damaging to [Romney’s] campaign than simply not releasing them.”

In his own appearance Sunday on CNN, Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie pointed out that the former Massachusetts governor has exceeded his legal obligation by making public his 2010 return and an estimate for 2011, and argued that Romney’s two-year release is in line with recent precedent.

McCain released only two years of tax returns as the GOP nominee four years ago; Gillespie also claimed that 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry released only two years but, in fact, Kerry released five.

Despite Gillespie’s assertion that Romney is being “very transparent,” some Republicans have joined the Obama campaign’s call for earlier tax returns.

“If you have things to hide, then maybe you’re doing things wrong,” Alabama Governor Robert Bentley said Saturday at the National Governors Association meeting in Williamsburg, Va. “I think you ought to be willing to release everything to the American people.”

Republican strategist John Weaver offered stern advice to Romney in an Associated Press report: “There is no whining in politics. Stop demanding an apology; release your tax returns.”

Other Republicans came to Romney’s defense Sunday. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, rumored to be a potential vice presidential pick, said the president’s focus on tax returns, outsourcing, and Bain Capital show he is not the inspirational leader he claimed.

“Unfortunately, with these attacks, it shows that he’s just a small politician and running on small-ball politics at a time when our country is facing grave, grave challenges,” Ayotte said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Gillespie turned the outsourcing attack on Obama in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” After refusing four times to state whether Romney believes outsourcing is a legitimate business practice, Gillespie said “what he believes is that American companies should be free—we have a free economy—to make decisions that are in the interest of their shareholders.”

“And what we need to do,” he added, “is make those decisions more attractive to invest here in the United States, rather than make them more attractive to go overseas, which is what the Obama policies do.”