WASHINGTON -- In the early days of his confirmation process, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner faced heaps of criticism over reports of his failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes while working at the International Monetary Fund. Among those calling for more transparency from Geithner and saying the reports were disqualifying was Mitt Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor was, at the time, the point man for the GOP's economic message. That involved walking a fine line when it came to Geithner: respecting the incoming president's prerogative to choose his team and praising the former president of the New York Federal Reserve as qualified, while raising questions about his taxes.
"[H]e's a person of accomplishment and skill. I think he's a very bright individual and obviously we're learning as much as we can about his tax dealings in the past and his level of integrity," Romney said of Geithner during an appearance on "Fox and Friends" on Jan. 15, 2009. "I think it's appropriate for the committee to really delve into this matter. If they find it was an honest mistake, then I think he should be confirmed. If, on the other hand, they find that there was deliberate tax evasion, that's a very different matter. Then a person would not be qualified. I certainly hope it turns out just to be an honest mistake."
"I think in the case of Tim Geithner, it's an important issue," he would tell CNBC later that day. "The committee ought to take a close look at it. If he was found to have been deliberately evading taxes, why, that would be a disqualifying feature. But if, instead, it were found to be an honest mistake on his part, then I think he ought to be confirmed."
A week later, he was on the same talking points.
"Well," he told Fox News' Sean Hannity on January 21, 2009, "I think it's appropriate for the committee to be delving into this and trying to understand what the whole motivation was behind his tax policy. If in fact he was deliberately evading taxes, if he knew that he owed more taxes and that he was hiding so that he didn't have to pay the taxes, that would disqualify him."
Geithner would end up being confirmed, as a number of prominent Republican senators concluded that $34,000 he initially failed to pay (he eventually paid the full amount) was not an egregious enough misstep to leave an important post unoccupied.
Three and a half years later, Romney's words have a decidedly different implication. The presumptive Republican nominee has released only his 2010 tax returns and estimates for 2011, declining to reveal more years' worth of information. Both Democrats and Republicans have called on him to do so, insisting that it is appropriate behavior for a presidential candidate.
While Romney's campaign has repeatedly stressed that he has fully complied with the law and paid all the taxes that he owed, several reports have raised questions about whether or not he or his accountant used loopholes to evade some payments. Were that to be proven true, it would be disqualifying by Romney's own definition.
The Romney campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Timothy Geithner as the former chairman of the New York Federal Reserve. He was its president.