Mitt Romney challenged President Obama Friday to "rein in" his campaign team after a senior aide suggested the Republican candidate may have committed a felony in his SEC filings. In an interview with Fox News, Romney called the comment "absurd" and "beneath the dignity of the presidency," and charged that the Obama team is just trying to deflect from all the sour economic news to "save the president's skin."
The Republican presidential candidate spoke to Fox News amid a tumultuous debate between the campaigns and in the media over Romney's tenure at private-equity firm Bain Capital. That debate has led to charges of lying on both sides but cranked up Thursday following a Boston Globe article that said documents show Romney was in charge at Bain for three years longer than he had claimed.
In a comment Romney's campaign says crossed a red line, Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter alleged that Romney was either misrepresenting his position at Bain to the Securities and Exchange Commission, "which is a felony," or misrepresenting to the American people.
"It's ridiculous," Romney told Fox News on Friday, in response to the charge. "And of course it's beneath the dignity of the presidency and of his campaign."
Romney added: "He really needs to rein in his team and to finally take responsibility for what they're saying. This is really absurd."
Romney, though, claimed the attacks are part of a "pattern."
"There are a lot of people in this country who are really hurting, and the president has been unsuccessful in getting people back to work, and so they're casting about in some way to try and make attacks and try and save the president's skin, save his campaign. That's simply not going to work," Romney said. "He's going to have to finally confront the American people with the failures of his policies and talk about the way forward."
The Romney campaign on Thursday had called on Obama's campaign to apologize.
But the Obama campaign has not done so. Far from it, Obama in an interview with WJLA-TV said Friday that Romney needs to better explain his tenure at Bain.
"Ultimately Mr. Romney, I think, is going to have to answer those questions, because if he aspires to being president, one of the things you learn is, you are ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations," Obama said. "But again that's probably a question that he's going to have to answer and I think that's a legitimate part of the campaign."
The 2001 SEC filing showed Romney as Bain's "sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president" though the campaign had said he left in 1999 to lead the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The period is relevant because that's when Bain was involved with companies that created jobs overseas or went bust -- and a period when Romney said he was not actively with the company.
The Romney campaign, though, stands by statements that the candidate left Bain in 1999, saying there are just "technical and legal reasons" why his name stayed on the documents. A campaign spokeswoman told Fox News on Friday that Romney was not in a management role after 1999. Bain Capital offered a similar explanation.
Obama challenged that in his interview with WJLA. "Now, my understanding is that Mr. Romney attested to the FCC, multiple times, that he was the chairman, CEO and president of Bain Capital and I think most Americans figure if you are the chairman, CEO and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does," he said.
Romney, though, said he's still waiting to engage in the "meaningful debate" he says Obama pledged after Romney clinched the GOP nomination.
"I'm waiting for that to start. All we've seen so far from his campaign has been one attack after the other," Romney said.
Asked about past comments in which he's called Obama a "nice guy," Romney said with a chuckle: "He's straining that generous comment."
Meanwhile, Romney said in response to Democratic criticism about his disclosure of personal finances that he will release one more year's worth of tax returns. He said two years' worth -- that would be 2010 and 2011 -- is "plenty."
Romney also challenged Obama's latest claims that the GOP candidate is not serious about deficit reduction because of his support for tax cut extensions for top earners. Romney said Obama "ought to look in the mirror because this president has raised the deficit and raised the debt for this country."
Romney also declined to comment on the vice presidential nominee selection process. Speculation has centered of late on former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though she has said definitively she is not interested in the job.