Obama defends campaign, says he had nothing to do with controversial anti-Romney ad

McClatchy NewspapersAugust 20, 2012 

— President Barack Obama defended the tone of his campaign Monday, distancing himself from one controversial attack on rival Mitt Romney by an ally but standing by his own ads and political accusations. “If you look at the overall trajectory of our campaign, and the ads that I have approved and are produced by my campaign, you’ll see that we point out sharp differences between the candidates,” Obama said. “But we don’t go out of bounds.”

He made the remarks at a White House news conference where he was peppered with questions about a campaign that’s been punctuated by a torrent of negative and often personal attacks, some by independent groups, but many also by the candidates themselves.

Obama was pressed specifically about charges from his own campaign and supporters that Romney has avoided paying taxes, that he might be a felon, and that he played a role in a woman’s death.For the first time, the president commented on the ad from a pro-Obama group that links Romney to the woman’s death from cancer.

“I don’t think that Gov. Romney is somehow responsible for the death of the woman that was portrayed in that ad,” Obama said, when asked by a reporter. “But keep it in mind, this is an ad that I didn’t approve, I did not produce, and as far as I can tell has barely run. I think it ran once.”

The ad was produced by an independent pro-Obama political action committee named Priorities USA, which is run by former Obama aide Bill Burton.

It tells how a man named Joe Soptic lost his job at a Kansas City steel mill after it was bought by Romney’s investment firm and later closed, how he lost his insurance, and how his wife died of cancer.

The independent political media watchdog group politifact.com said the ad “suggests that Mitt Romney is responsible for a woman’s death.” The group and several others called the ad false, noting that Soptic’s wife had health insurance for a year after he lost his job and that she was not diagnosed with cancer for another five years.

Obama disputed a question about why his campaign suggested that Romney might be a felon if he misled the Securities and Exchange Commission about when he left the investment firm of Bain Capital, as a news media report implied. Romney denied misleading the SEC.

“Nobody accused Mr. Romney of being a felon,” Obama said.

However, his deputy campaign manager did hint last month that Romney might have committed a felony.

“Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people,” Obama aide Stephanie Cutter said.

Romney’s campaign fired back that Obama failed to criticize the cancer ad and that he did not tell the truth about his aide suggesting that Romney might be a criminal.

“After spending weeks refusing to denounce his super PAC’s scurrilous ad against Mitt Romney, President Obama once again failed to lead,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said Monday.

“Worse yet, the president falsely alleged no one in his campaign had accused Mitt Romney of committing a crime,” Williams said. “President Obama’s failure to stand up to dishonest rhetoric and attacks demonstrates yet again he’s diminished the office that he holds and his record is nothing more than business as usual in Washington.”

Obama sidestepped a question about charges from top Democrats that Romney avoided paying taxes, which they made without producing proof.

Obama said he does not think that Romney did anything illegal in his personal taxes. But he said that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee uses tax shelters that most Americans do not use and that that makes him politically vulnerable.

“There’s a difference between playing by the same sets of rules and doing something illegal. And in no way have we suggested the latter,” Obama said. “He used Swiss bank accounts, for example. Well, that may be perfectly legal, but I suspect if you asked the average American, `Do you have one and is that part of how you manage your tax obligations?’ they would say no.”

On another subject, Obama joined the criticism of Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo., for saying that it is “rare” for women to get pregnant in cases of “legitimate” rape. Akin is the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in Missouri.

“The views expressed were offensive,” the president said. “Rape is rape. And the idea that we should be parsing and qualifying and slicing what types of rape we’re talking about doesn’t make sense to the American people – and certainly does not make sense to me. What I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decision on behalf of women.”

Email: sthomma@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @stevethomma

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