The Washington Times - July 18, 2012, 09:26AM

Former Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty on Wednesday defended presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s decision not to disclose any tax returns from before 2010, and he accused the Obama campaign of using the issue to distract from the nation’s current economic doldrums.

Mr. Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor who is widely believed to be on the short-list of possible Romney running mates, told “CBS This Morning” that he thinks Mr. Romney has released enough financial information and that both campaigns would be better off focusing on ways to reduce unemployment and energize businesses.

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“The president is hanging shiny objects before the public and the press, and the press is taking the bait,” Mr. Pawlenty said. “He’s trying to distract from the main issue, which should be his poor performance.”

Mr. Romney has released his 2010 tax return and an estimate of his 2011 taxes. Presidential candidates are not required to disclose their taxes but traditionally have done so, and some have released returns going as far back as 20 years.

Democrats most vocally have implored Mr. Romney to release returns to shed light on his assets and investments, but they have been joined in recent days by Republicans including former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and two former presidential primary foes, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

Mr. Pawlenty insisted that disclosing only two years of returns is standard for presidential candidates and dismissed suggestions by some Republicans that Mr. Obama should be coerced into releasing his college transcripts.

The nation’s economic woes “are the big issues in this race,” he said. “Not 20-year-old transcripts or 15-year-old tax returns.”