Note: This is all speculation. I do not know if Team Obama actually even has an October surprise planned against Mitt Romney, I just know it would be pretty epic if it was this.
President Obama is just a man. He has been known to play rope-a-dope with his opponents. He also has a pretty good record of being one step ahead of his GOP counter parts. He is classy and respectful and an excellent politician. But he is just a man. He's not psychic, he doesn't have the power to read minds or see the future. The guy just has good political instincts, and a GREAT team working for him.
So when things like what I am about to write about pop into my mind, sometimes they seem too good to be possible, let alone true. And maybe that is the case. But I get the feeling that there is more going on in this weeks Romney Tax return news than just the typical political framing of Romney's character, or lack thereof. I'm starting to suspect a concerted effort to lay the ground work for a possible October surprise.
If you can stand a little (mostly baseless) speculation and want to read a good bedtime story, follow me over the orange cloud thingy.
We will most likely never see Mitt Romney's tax returns. I know "you people" don't want to hear that, but the fact of the matter is it's taken Romney MONTHS to get 2011's return together for us to see! The prospect of him pulling returns from 2000 onward out of "hat" in the 40-odd days before the election is laughable. Hell it would take a damn miracle at their current speed.
Odds are even if they wanted to release those returns, there just isn't time for him to pull em together. Yet team Obama is not letting up and neither is the media.
In fact ever since Mitt Romney all but officially secured the nomination for President, the actual President has been subtly and sometimes not so subtly pushing forward on the issue of Mitt Romney's tax returns. It has been the defining issue of this campaign, it has dogged Romney all year because he refuses to release anything prior to 2010. Now we are seeing the media pick up on the very real possibility that Mitt Romney could be hiding participation in the Tax Cheat Amnesty program set up by the Federal Government in 2009. Something the blogosphere has speculated about for months and I think Team Obama may know about for certain.
For those who may need a refresher on the UBS scandal here is a short primer. In 2007 a Whistle Blower informs the Federal Government that he has a list of 20,000 UBS clients who are Americans using Swiss tax shelters. He gives all of that information to the feds and a shock wave is sent through world of sleazy tax shelters. In 2009 an amnesty program is created and the feds immediately begin making contact with the 20,000 UBS clients who used Swiss Tax Shelters, offering them a deal that includes tax fines and Amnesty instead of a felony.
One client of UBS was apparently Ann Romney, which is by itself enough to reasonably conclude that Mitt Romney also had assets with UBS, but doesn't bridge the gap between simply being law abiding clients and actually evading taxes, let alone seeking amnesty.
Of course Team Obama wouldn't have to know for certain Romney took advantage of the program, in order to justify keeping the pressure on Romney. Keeping the Tax Returns story in the media, releasing ads and casually bringing it up doesn't require proof, only a lack of disclosure. And Team Obama could very well be doing it just to poke fun at Romney and define him as a dodgy rich guy who thinks he gets to play by his own special set of rules. Not to mention the whole no regard or respect for the inquiries of the American people.
It's simple politics.
Maybe they just like watching him squirm. But the constant prodding carries it's own risks. There has always been a very real possibility that Romney could call Obama's bluff and release his tax returns only to show he is 100% clean. Hell Romney's October Surprise could very well be the release of his tax returns showing he donates ungodly amounts of money to a "Save the puppies fund" or some other unthinkable charitableness that makes all of this prodding by Obama look pretty bad in retrospect.
The "Modest Romney" trap is unlikely but a very real risk of Obama's strategy. Which makes me think the Obama campaign knows that Romney isn't clean. That they know Romney had his hands all over that UBS scheme and they're just dragging it out for maximum effect. In fact the sudden change of focus in the media away from the "How much does Mitt Romney pay" framing to the much more serious "possibility of a felony" frame, is what got me thinking maybe Obama knows for certain and is setting Romney up for a big reveal.
Think about it. If you knew for certain that Romney avoided a felony and you had proof, or at least a credible source, would you go out and broadcast it before the guy is even his parties official nominee? Hell no. What if after he became the nominee he immediately cratered in the polls? Would you release it then? Hell no. You wait for a pivotal moment. Maybe for the polls to tighten, or victory start looking a little more questionable, and you release it when you know it will crush the guy.
At the moment Romney is crushing himself.
Plus waiting has other benefits. If they released such info the moment they got it, it would have been a week long news story, and then reduced to a talking point. Just like the 47% stuff. But you wait a little while, you get Romney on record claiming to be an honest, innocent, tax paying guy and bingo! As they say it's not the scandal, but the coverup that gets you. How many times has Team Obama prodded Romney into claiming there is "nothing to hide" and that we should just "trust him" on his tax returns? Suddenly all of that "trust me" crap is scandalous fodder for campaign ads and political pundits. The estimates of Romney's past taxes, along with that affidavit that claimed everything is on the up and up, suddenly looks like a cover up.
So you wait and you get the candidate on record denying any wrong doing, specifically that there is "no smoking gun" and then you release the smoking gun.
But as far as I know there are only 2 people in the world who could serve as credible sources on this issue, possibly have physical evidence of Romney's role, and are willing to share that information with Obama or the media. You all know the first person as one Eric Holder. The brand new Attorney General who was tasked with taking over and finishing the justice departments investigation of UBS back in 2009.
Holder would not only have access to the information about the 20,000 clients, and the 5,000 who sought amnesty, but he would also have the ability to share such information (possibly off the record) with President Obama or a member of his staff. As I said no actual proof would be necessary for Obama to justify committing lots of campaign resources to the cause of prodding Romney on his taxes. Even if Romney never releases them the prodding alone is damaging. But assurance from Holder would eliminate the "Modest Romney" risk of political blow back.
An October surprise on the other hand requires some sort of evidence, reliable source or better yet proof that the American People can witness. Eric Holder could have given Obama something along those lines, but that would seem a bit unethical. Having the Attorney General publicly single out Mitt Romney as a tax evader who sought Amnesty is also politically out of the question, and I am pretty sure an abuse of power.
Even a leak of Justice Department documents would cause serious blow back for Obama.
So who else would be in the know? How about this guy? Bradley Birkenfeld himself. AKA The Whistle Blower who caused this whole firestorm and who got a nice little $104 Million Dollar reward from the IRS earlier this month for turning in all the tax evaders.
He would know pretty much everything. Might even have a document or two laying around. And ya know he might just find the courage in his heart to blow that whistle one more time. He is out of jail and serving his last 9 months of his sentence from home. But this little paragraph from the link above is what really makes me wonder.
Birkenfeld’s attorneys said their client’s legal battle was fraught with confusion about the legal protections granted to whistleblowers. Such laws are designed to induce insiders who are close to the “kingpins” to come forward, they said. It’s understood that those insiders’ hands won’t be clean, and these whistleblowers should not have to fear prosecution for turning over evidence, they argued.
They plan to seek a presidential pardon for Birkenfeld.
He has served 33 months in jail and has 9 months of essentially house arrest left to serve, yet he wants a Presidential Pardon? I don't think it has anything to do with his time and everything to do with his reputation. He doesn't feel like he did anything wrong, and most of the charges have to do with him withholding information from the IRS until he could be guaranteed immunity. A pardon is his ticket to clearing his name as best he can and salvaging the remainder of his life.
I'm not suggesting a quid pro quo has or should be set up. Remember all of this is nothing more than sexy, sexy speculation.
But the act of releasing such information at a pivotal time would certainly score some badly needed brownie points with a President who has signed less pardons than any other President in modern history. So imagine this guy holding a press conference in October, or maybe his attorney holding it for him, or maybe he just pens an OP-ED in a major newspaper where he announces that he has personally seen (and perhaps has copies of) documents that show one Willard M. Romney was in fact one of the UBS clients he blew the whistle on, and the fact that he's not in jail means he sought and was given amnesty for what would have been a felony.
Such a revelation would be game over for Romney. And what does Birkenfeld have to lose? We all know the guy is going to write a tell all book eventually anyway, why not increase his chance of a pardon by letting one juicy tidbit out right now? In my opinion the guy deserves a pardon anyway. Sure, he had his hands in the cookie jar but at least he allowed us to recover a big chunk of the cookies. 40 Months is a pretty hard slap on the wrist. Regardless of what happens with Romney, Obama should pardon the guy.
Again as far as I know this is just a fantasy scenario. But it would be amazing and cap off this whole Mitt Romney Tax Returns thing in a way that would be attached to every biography written about the guy, in every history book from now until the end of time. It would be exactly the sort of "long view" political maneuvering, or should I say outmaneuvering, I have come to expect from this President and his team.
With that I'd like to end this foray into political fiction and return you to your regularly scheduled campaign... already in progress.