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‘Dirty liar’ and pressure for taxes escalate war of words

Both sides heat up the rhetoric

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The war of words over Mitt Romney's taxes amped up Sunday, as Republicans lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and accused him of lying about his claim that the presumed Republican presidential candidate hasn't paid any taxes in the past 10 years.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, while appearing on ABC's "This Week," called the Nevada Democrat a "dirty liar who hasn't filed a single page of tax returns himself."

When show moderator George Stephanopoulos asked the Wisconsin Republican whether he stood by his comment, he answered; "I just said it."

"This is just a made-up issue, and the fact that we're going to spend any time talking about it is just ridiculous," Mr. Priebus said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, also ripped into the majority leader Sunday, telling CNN's "State of the Union" that "what he did on the Senate floor is so out of bounds. I think he's lying about his statement of knowing something about Romney."

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, called Mr. Reid's comments "reckless and slanderous."

"You know what we know about [Mr. Romney's] tax returns? He's paid his taxes," Mr. McDonnell said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "He's a very generous man, and he's made a lot of money because he's been successful."

The governor added that "people don't care about Mitt Romney's tax returns" and accused Democrats of making an issue of Mr. Romney's tax returns simply to deflect attention from President Obama's handling of the economy.

"Why don't we start talking about the things that are important?" he said.

Democrats have refused to back off the claim and floated more speculation about what Mr. Romney is doing with his personal fortune — estimated to be as much as $250 million.

"I do know that there are massive questions about why he has a Swiss bank account, why he has investments in the Cayman Islands in a Bermuda corporation that he's transferred to his wife's name one day before he became governor of Massachusetts," Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, who heads the Democratic National Committee, said on ABC's "This Week."

"Those are questions that, when you're running for president of the United States, that the American people deserve answers to," she said.

Mr. Romney has refused to release more than one year of personal tax returns — as Democrats and some Republicans have called for — on the grounds that the information could be distorted and used against him. There is no legal requirement that presidential candidates release their taxes, although it has become the custom in recent decades.

Mr. Reid last week said he had learned that Mr. Romney hadn't paid his taxes from an investor in the Republican's former firm, Bain Capital. The senator hasn't offered proof and said he isn't sure whether it's true. He repeated the accusation on the Senate floor, a move Republicans characterized as politically motivated and inappropriate. Senators cannot be sued for defamation over statements made on the chamber floor.

Since his initial charge, Mr. Reid has doubled down on his insinuation and said he doesn't need to prove it.

"I don't think the burden should be on me," he said in a telephone call with Nevada reporters last week. "The burden should be on him. He's the one I've alleged has not paid any taxes. Why didn't he release his tax returns?"

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson, in email Sunday regarding the attacks on Mr. Reid, said the unnamed source is "extremely credible" and accused Republicans of trying to "cover up for Mitt Romney's stonewalling."

"This issue is not going away until Romney decides to be straight with the American people and release his tax returns," Mr. Jentleson said.

But late last week, Mr. Romney himself emphatically said he would not release the returns and dared Mr. Reid "to put up or shut up."

"Harry's going to have to describe who it is he spoke with, because of course that's totally and completely wrong. It's untrue, dishonest, and inaccurate. It's wrong," he told Fox News' Sean Hannity on his radio show. "So I'm looking forward to have Harry reveal his sources and we'll probably find out it's the White House."

No Democrat appearing on Sunday's news talk shows disavowed Mr. Reid's comments, which Republicans said last week smacked of McCarthyism in their use of anonymous sources to make insinuations that the accused must then disprove.

Rather than disavowing Mr. Reid's claims, most Democrats instead tried to turn the conversation away from him and instead on Mr. Romney.

David Axelrod, Mr. Obama's senior campaign adviser, told "Fox News Sunday" that he didn't know the identity of Mr. Reid's source but that "Gov. Romney can resolve this in 10 seconds. They can release the tax returns."

Robert Gibbs, an adviser to Mr. Obama and his former press secretary, was asked on CNN's "State of the Union" whether Mr. Reid should tamp down his accusations against Mr. Romney. "I don't think anybody controls Harry Reid," was his reply.

When pressed again by show moderator Candy Crowley whether Mr. Reid should drop the issue, Mr. Gibbs said instead that "Harry Reid isn't the one who's made this debate. Mitt Romney has brought this to the fore."

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