By Tom Cohen and Ashley Killough, CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Mitt Romney described assertions by President Barack Obama’s campaign as “deceptive,” demanding an apology and rejecting calls to release more than two years of tax returns.
Obama, however, showed no sign of backing down in questioning whether the presumptive Republican presidential nominee continued playing a leading role at Bain Capital after taking a leave of absence from the private equity firm in February 1999.
The issue has dominated the campaign debate in recent days, escalating the bitterness of the presidential race less than four months from the November vote.
Romney conducted a series of previously unscheduled interviews on Friday afternoon to call on Obama to disavow tactics that Romney called below the standard for a presidential campaign.
“There’s no question but that his campaign is putting out information which is false and deceptive and dishonest, and they know it, and they ought to stop,” Romney told CNN in one of the five interviews he did with television networks.
In particular, Romney rejected the persistent contention by the Obama campaign in ads and statements that Romney misled either federal regulators or the American people in saying he stopped playing any management role at Bain Capital after leaving in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympics.
The attacks are “beneath the dignity of the president and his campaign,” Romney told ABC News, adding they reflected “Chicago-style politics at its worst.”
Obama had promised a different approach when he ran last time, Romney said.
The former Massachusetts governor said a report had revealed the Obama campaign had “a strategy of trying to ‘kill Romney,’ and that’s what they are trying to do. He’s sure as heck got to say sorry for the kinds of attacks that are coming from his team. It’s very disappointing on his part.”
The Boston Globe reported Thursday that documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission stated that Romney owned 100% of the company until as late as 2002.
CNN confirmed that an SEC filing from 2001 also listed Romney as the “sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president of Bain Capital.” In addition, CNN obtained from a Democratic official a Bain Capital filing with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Office in 2001 that listed Romney as Bain president, as well as a director.
Asked about the documents, Romney told CNN “there’s a difference between being a shareholder, an owner if you will, and being a person who’s running an entity.”
He denied playing any management role at Bain Capital after February 1999 and called the issue “an effort on the part of the president’s campaign to divert attention from the fact the president has been a failure in reigniting the American economy.”
“Is this the level that the Obama campaign is willing to stoop to?” Romney asked. “Is this up to the standards expected of the presidency of the United States? I don’t think the American people think so. I don’t think so.”
He went on to call the campaign tactics “disgusting” and “demeaning,” adding: “It’s something which I think the president should take responsibility for and stop.”
In an interview Friday with CNN affiliate WJLA, Obama said the question needed to be addressed by Romney.
“As president of the United States, it’s pretty clear to me that I’m responsible for folks who are working in the federal government and you know, Harry Truman said the buck stops with you,” Obama said. “Now, my understanding is that Mr. Romney attested to the SEC, multiple times, that he was the chairman, CEO and president of Bain Capital, and I think most Americans figure if you are the chairman, CEO and president of a company that you are responsible for what that company does.”
The timing of Romney’s end date at the firm remains an important focal point in the presidential race, as Romney argues that he left the company before it was involved with the shuttering of certain businesses that led to job losses.
The nonpartisan group FactCheck.org said it previously looked into the matter of when Romney left Bain Capital and concluded there was insufficient evidence to show that Romney was still managing the company, even part-time, during his time with the Olympics.
In addition, Steve Pagliuca, a Bain managing partner, told CNN that Romney had “absolutely no involvement with the management or investment activities” of the firm after his February 1999 exit, though he continued to be the sole stockholder.
“Due to the sudden nature of Mr. Romney’s departure, he remained the sole stockholder for a time while formal ownership was being documented and transferred to the group of partners who took over management of the firm in 1999,” said Pagliuca, a Democrat. “Accordingly, Mr. Romney was reported in various capacities on SEC filings during this period.”
In addition, the Romney campaign cites multiple fact-checking reports that labeled as false or misleading the claims by the Obama campaign that Bain Capital invested in companies that outsourced jobs overseas during Romney’s tenure.
Obama mentioned the issue again Friday, saying at an event in Hampton, Virginia, that Romney’s business record “was starting a company that’s been investing in what were called pioneers of outsourcing.”
Asked about the heated accusations and counter-accusations between the campaigns, Romney said Friday that he and his team have no choice but to respond.
“What the president’s campaign has done so far is run advertisement after advertisement, which are then shown by independent fact-checkers to be wrong, false, misleading, and yet they keep doing it,” Romney said. “At some point you have to respond. You can’ t just have the airwaves covered with these ads day in and day out without saying, ‘Look, those are false.’ “
Obama’s campaign also has been calling on Romney to release more than the two years’ worth of tax documents he has already made public, suggesting the candidate may be hiding important details about his finances.
Some Republicans have joined Democrats in saying that a candidate’s financial records are fair game in a presidential election campaign.
Romney has released his 2010 tax records and an estimate for 2011. He said Friday he will release his final 2011 return when the accountants complete it, but nothing more, noting he already disclosed what was required.
“I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more,” Romney said. “We’re putting out what is required, plus more that’s not required. Those are the two years people are going to have, and that’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances.”
So far, the Obama campaign has succeeded in making the issues of Romney’s business background and personal wealth into campaign issues, while Romney has waged unending attacks on what he calls the president’s failure to achieve more economic growth.
Both campaigns came out with new attacks Friday that challenged the credibility of the opposing candidate.
A new Romney ad used footage of Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech to frame the president as hypocritical in his campaign tactics.
Titled “What happened?” the 30-second spot faults Obama for making “dishonest” attacks in the 2012 presidential race, despite condemning such strategy in his speech four years ago. The clips of Obama’s old speech in Denver, however, appeared to be presented out of context.
The Obama campaign released a new online video called “Your Turn” that highlights what it called Romney’s misrepresentation of his departure from Bain Capital.
Obama launched a two-day campaign swing through Virginia on Friday, telling boisterous crowds that he kept his promise to bring change that helped middle-class families, and now it was time for them to work to re-elect him.
“Because of the values we share, I believe in you.” Obama told chanting, cheering supporters in a Virginia Beach school gymnasium. “And I hope you believe in me, because I’ve kept that promise, and I fought for you and I’m going to keep on fighting for you as long as I have a chance to be your president.”
To rising applause, he continued: “And if you’re willing to stand up with me and knock on doors with me, and make phone calls and get out and organize, then we’ll finish what we started in 2008.”
Obama carried Virginia four years ago, becoming the first Democrat to win the state since 1964, and polls show him with a slight lead over Romney at this point. He emphasized Friday that despite negative ads flooding the airwaves, it is the voters who hold the ultimate power on Election Day.
“When you decide change is going to happen, change happens,” Obama said amid recurring chants of “four more years” and “U.S.A.” “When you decide we’re going to move forward, we move forward.”
Delivering what is becoming his stump speech for the campaign, the president complained about the stalemate in Washington that he blamed on differing visions by each party. He framed the debate as a choice between moving forward with Democratic policies or going backward with Republican calls to return to what he called failed policies of the past.
“I don’t want to go backwards. I want to go forward,” Obama repeated several times in outlining the differences between what he proposes and what Romney backs.
The Romney campaign reacted immediately, saying Obama policies that have failed to bring down high unemployment and promote growth are what should not be repeated.
“He’s right. Why would we try his failed policies again?” said a statement from Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.
In his most direct criticism of Republicans, Obama admonished the House GOP leadership for holding more than 30 votes on repealing or dismantling his signature health care reform law while refusing to join him in extending tax cuts on income of up to $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals.
“All it would take is one vote to make sure that all of you don’t see your taxes go up next year,” Obama said. “You tell me what would be a better use of time.”
Obama’s plan would mean higher taxes for 2% of the country who earn more than $250,000 a year, which he argued was necessary to help bring down budget deficits and would cause little discomfort to wealthy people “like me.”
Republicans, however, reject any tax hikes in adhering to conservative principles of shrinking government to reduce deficits, as opposed to Obama’s call for what he calls a balanced approach that would include further spending cuts and increased tax revenue.
The president headed to Hampton and Roanoke for more speeches Friday, then will return to the White House for the night before two more Virginia events Saturday in Richmond and Chantilly.
Earlier Friday, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell told CNN that he believes support for Romney is growing in his state.
“About four months ago, Romney was down eight points,” McDonnell said, adding that the more that people examine what he called “the failed leadership and impact of the regulatory policies in Virginia” in comparison to Romney’s ideas, “I think it gets better for Romney.”
“I won by 18 points after (Obama’s 2008 victory in Virginia) and what I’m hearing on the ground from business people and just the independent voter is this jobless record of 41 months over 8% and crushing national debt are the things that are driving people towards Mitt Romney,” McDonnell said.
In a sign that Republicans want to shift attention away from the Bain Capital issue, Romney’s campaign teased supporters Thursday with news of an upcoming announcement on his choice for a vice presidential nominee.
Later Thursday, the conservative Drudge Report posted a story, attributed to unnamed sources, saying that Romney had narrowed the field of prospective candidates to a handful, with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as “a surprise name” on the short list.
Rice, who was the first African American woman to serve as secretary of state, has repeatedly denied any interest in running for vice president. In addition, Romney has previously declared his running mate will be someone who opposes abortion, while Rice told CBS in 2008 that she was “mildly pro-choice.”
Erick Erickson, a CNN contributor and the editor of Red State, a popular conservative blog, tweeted that he had been assured by people in the Romney campaign that the choice would not be Rice.
Romney refused to comment Friday on the vice presidential search.
CNN’s Kevin Bohn, Paul Steinhauser and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.