Mitt Romney Answered Questions About Bain SEC Filings During Massachusetts Gubernatorial Campaign

Mitt Romney answered questions about his SEC filings in 2002.

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Houston, Texas.

Mitt Romney appeared on five news networks Friday in an attempt to mitigate the fallout of Thursday's Boston Globe report, which showed the GOP presidential nominee may have not left Bain Capital in 1999, as he said, but instead in 2002.

The Globe report cited SEC documents from Bain that described Romney as "sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president," even after 1999. Romney called the allegations ridiculous on Friday, and said it was beneath the dignity of President Barack Obama to raise the issue.

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But Romney's comments have done little to quell the debate, and he was roundly criticized Monday for his inability to handle the problem, with the Washington Post calling Bain Romney's "unsolvable problem," and Fox News writing that Romney only had himself to blame.

At this point in his political career, Romney should know how to deal with the Bain problem.

Why? Because he's dealt with it before.

A Whispers deep dive into news reports from the early 2000s show that questions about the SEC filings came up in 2002, when Romney was running for Massachusetts governor.

The Boston Herald and the Boston Globe both reported on Oct. 29, 2002 that Romney was being attacked by his democratic opponent, Shannon O'Brien, about a plant shutdown at GST steel in 2001. According to the reports, when Romney responded that he was on leave from Bain during the year of the GST steel shutdown, O'Brien shot back that Romney retained some control at Bain in 2001, as his signature was still on SEC documents.

Instead of floundering, as the Romney campaign appears to be doing now, his gubernatorial campaign team countered O'Brien's attacks by releasing a letter from Bain Capital attorney R. Bradford Malt.

According to the Herald, Malt "confirmed that Romney went on leave from Bain on Feb. 11, 1999, to run the Olympics - and said there's nothing untoward about Romney, Bain's co-founder, signing legal documents." The Globe similarly reported that the letter from Malt argued "Romney was not actively involved with Bain after Feb. 11, 1999, even though he was sometimes called on to sign Bain's SEC filings."

Romney's gubernatorial campaign also released a second letter, from former CEO of GST, Mark Essig, who said Romney was in no way responsible for the plant's closing. "It saddens me that the pain and suffering of so many resulting from the closure of the plant have been twisted to serve someone's political purpose," Essig said at the time, according to the 2002 Globe report.

After the release of the dual letters, it appears that O'Brien's attacks on Romney's tenure at Bain and SEC filings died out. And Romney, of course, went on to win the election.

If his response to SEC filings worked so well in 2002, why doesn't the Romney campaign release those letters once more? A Whispers attempt to track down Malt and Essig's letters was fruitless: The letters do not appear to exist online anymore, if they ever did.

Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul suggested to Whispers that she believed the issue has already been laid to rest.

"Mitt Romney had no involvement in management or investment decisions at Bain Capital after February 1999," Saul said in an E-mail, "as has been confirmed by Bain Capital, multiple independent fact checkers and a unanimous finding of fact by the Massachusetts Ballot Law Commission.

A request for comment from Malt was directed to the Romney campaign.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at eflock@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.