- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 24, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney released two years of his tax records Tuesday and worked to tear apart the two men he views as being the biggest obstacles to him winning the White House: Newt Gingrich and President Obama.

Mr. Gingrich, meanwhile, threatened to skip future candidates debates if event sponsors continue to instruct audiences to keep quiet — suggesting the demand by NBC News that audience members hold their applause at Monday’s debate stifled free speech and was done out of fear “that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate.”

The action highlighted the third full-day of campaigning here in the Sunshine State, where the GOP presidential field is jockeying for position ahead of the state’s primary next week. At stake are the state’s 50 delegates and momentum in a race that’s seen three different winners in as many nomination contests.

The primary also will play a pivotal role in determining whether Mr. Romney can regroup from Mr. Gingrich’s large victory Saturday in the South Carolina primary or whether the former House speaker will continue to solidify the party’s conservative base — the same grass-roots voters who are being courted by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.

After being besieged by calls from Mr. Gingrich and the Democratic National Committee to come clean on his taxes, Mr. Romney started Tuesday by releasing his 2010 income tax return as well as a draft statement of what he expects to pay the IRS in 2011.

Taken together, the 500 pages of documents showed that the former Massachusetts governor earned $42.5 million almost entirely from investments the last the two years, while paying more than $6 million in federal taxes and donating more than $7 million to charitable organizations, particularly the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That puts his 2010 effective tax rate at 13.9 percent, while Mr. Romney has said he expects to pay an estimated rate of 15.4 percent on his 2011 income.

Brad Malt, the lead trustee on the Romneys’ three blind trusts, said since Mr. Romney became Massachusetts governor in 2003, neither he nor his wife, Ann, have been involved in the buying or selling of assets. He also denied news reports that the Romneys hid income in overseas bank accounts and offshore investments, including in the Cayman Islands.

“There is a suggestion that there is some tax haven aspect to these investment that result in a reduction of taxes. Again, this is flatly wrong,” Mr. Malt said, while he acknowledged that the Swiss bank account he closed in 2003 was done in part for political reasons. “It might or might not be consistent with Gov. Romney’s political views,” he said.

Brad Woodhouse, a DNC spokesman, though, called on Mr. Romney to open up more of his tax records to public scrutiny, pointing out that only two years of returns falls far short of the eight years President Obama released, the almost decade of returns released by President George W. Bush and the 12 years of tax returns that Mr. Romney’s father, George Romney, released during his run for president in the 1960s.

“It will do little to put to rest the serious questions that have plagued him about how he made his $200-plus million fortune,” Mr. Woodhouse said. “As Mitt Romney’s father said as he handed over 12 years worth of returns, ‘One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.’ “

Coming off one of his poorest debate performances of the campaign, Mr. Gingrich told Fox News Tuesday that he should have protested NBC News’ attempts to muzzle the crowd at Monday’s debate, although the practice has been used in past general election debates.

“The media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Romney camp trotted out Michigan Rep. Dave Camp and Florida Rep. Connie Mack for another conference call, where they worked to cast additional doubts on the role Mr. Gingrich played working as a consultant for Freddie Mac, the government-backed mortgage company that has been blamed for compounding the problem of housing foreclosures here and elsewhere.

“[He] has failed in his leadership since leaving office by influence peddling with Freddie Mac and now not telling the truth about it,” Mr. Mack said.

And at a campaign stop billed as a “prebuttal” to President Obama’s States of the Union address, Mr. Romney said Mr. Obama has failed to improve the nation’s employment picture, worsened the housing crises and driven the nation further into a sea of red ink. Standing before a banner that read “Obama Isn’t Working,” Mr. Romney warned the audience that Mr. Obama will try to blame is shortcomings on a “Do Nothing Congress.”

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