WASHINGTON - Sen. Harry Reid caused a stir this week when he told an interviewer that Mitt Romney hasn't released more of his tax returns because "he didn't pay taxes for 10 years." On Wednesday, Reid doubled down on the charge.
In an interview published Tuesday, Reid said an investor in Bain Capital, the former private equity firm of the Republican presidential candidate, told him in a phone call that Romney had paid zero taxes.
"Now, do I know that that's true? Well, I'm not certain," Reid told the Huffington Post, declining to identify his source. "But obviously he can't release those tax returns. How would it look?"
Democrats cheered as the Senate majority leader from Nevada focused new attention on a perceived Romney weak spot: his refusal to release more than the last two years of his tax returns. Without more disclosure, Reid has said, Romney is not fit to serve as a Cabinet member and "couldn't be confirmed as dog catcher."
"His poor father must be so embarrassed about his son," Reid said, referring to then-Michigan Gov. George Romney making public 12 years of his tax returns when he ran for president in 1968.
Republicans, meanwhile, cried foul at an accusation that they complained lacked any supporting evidence. Romney's campaign, which has set his net worth at between $190 million and $250 million, previously has denied rumors that he hasn't paid taxes in any year.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Wednesday that he did not see Romney's tax returns as a "relevant issue" and that if people want more disclosure, "they should pass a law to make it that way."
But other Republicans, such as Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, have called for Romney to make public more information.
On Wednesday, Reid stuck to his story, and broadened it.
"I am not basing this on some figment of my imagination," Reid said in a telephone call with Nevada reporters. "I have had a number of people tell me that."
Asked to elaborate on his sources, Reid declined. "No, that's the best you're going to get from me."
"I don't think the burden should be on me," Reid said. "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?"
A Romney spokesman said Reid's charge was baseless and below the belt.
"This is further proof that the president's campaign is willing to say whatever it takes to distract from his economic record, no matter how baseless, unfounded or demonstrably false their attacks are," spokesman Mason Harrison said. "President (Barack) Obama condemned these kinds of negative attacks in 2008, but like many of the promises he made back then, they have turned out to be just more words."
Reid challenged the media to be more aggressive in digging into Romney's finances.
"What if he has paid no taxes, like I am saying he hasn't," Reid said. "What if he has all these moneys as we already know ... in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Swiss banks. I mean, gee whiz, rather than ask me why I should do this, that is a story you should be writing."
If nothing else, Reid's remarks could be entered onto a list of other head-turning comments he has made over the years, including calling President George W. Bush a liar and a "loser" on separate occasions.
He has declared Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas an "embarrassment" and said Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was "one of the biggest political hacks" in Washington.
In the Huffington Post interview, Reid trained his anger on William Magwood, a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Reid called Magwood a "treacherous miserable liar," saying the official had misled him about his position on the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.