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Obama: Romney needs to answer questions about Bain

LACONIA, N.H. (AP) -- His credibility under attack, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney labored to rebut President Barack Obama and other critics Friday as questions multiplied over the timing of his departure from a private equity firm more than a decade ago.

Obama said the inconsistencies, raised in several media reports and highlighted by his own campaign aides, were a legitimate part of the race for the White House.

"Ultimately, I think, Mr. Romney is going to have to answer those questions because if he aspires to being president, one of the things you learn is you're ultimately responsible for the conduct of your operations," the president said in an interview with WJLA-TV in Virginia as he campaigned across the battleground state.

Hours earlier, Romney hastily arranged interviews with several television networks in hopes of preventing any damage to his presidential bid. One aide said earlier in the week that any suggestion that Romney had shipped jobs overseas was a lie, and the campaign has said repeatedly the break with the private equity firm came in 1999.

Yet documents surfaced for the second straight day that seemed to indicate Romney played an active management role in Bain Capital after that date, when he says he and company officials say he left the firm to become head of the Olympic games in Salt Lake City.

Beyond raising questions about Romney's truthfulness, the discrepancy in dates may be important because of accusations that Bain invested in companies that outsourced jobs overseas after 1999.

That, in turn, goes to the core issue of the race for the White House in dreary economic times, Romney's claim that as a former businessman, he has the ability to create jobs and finally pull the country out of a downturn that has lingered throughout Obama's term.

Obama spent much of his day challenging Romney over taxes and spending, telling one audience that if Republicans are unwilling to let tax cuts lapse for the wealthiest Americans, they're "not serious" about reducing the deficit.

Appearing in Hampton Roads, Va., Obama renewed calls to extend Bush-era tax breaks for those earning $250,000 or less while the two sides argue about higher earners, affecting the top 2 percent of Americans. But he charged Republicans with balking, and holding middle-class cuts "hostage."

"If you say you want to bring down the deficit, but you're not willing to let tax cuts lapse for the top 2 percent, it tells me you're not serious about deficit reduction," Obama said at a campaign rally. He said lawmakers should "go ahead and help middle-class families right now. And so far, I have not gotten an OK from the other side on that. And that tells me I guess they're not that serious about deficit reduction."

Romney and other Republicans argue that raising taxes on anyone would be a mistake given the fragile state of the recovery.

But for now, the dispute over outsourcing and the timing of Romney's departure from the firm he created took a central role in the race.

Documents filed with the federal government by Bain Capital conflict with Romney's statements about when he gave up control of the Boston-based firm.

The filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission place Romney in charge of Bain Capital from 1999 to 2001, the period in which it outsourced jobs and ran companies that fell into bankruptcy.

Separately, Bain Capital issued a statement saying that Romney "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."

"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're the chairman, CEO and president of a company that you are responsible for what the company does," Obama said.

The dispute expanded to the television ad wars already under way.

Romney unveiled a scathing commercial this week declaring there was no truth to the accusations and saying that in 2008, "candidate Obama lied about Hillary Clinton." It showed the secretary of state - then Obama's rival for the Democratic nomination - saying "shame on you, Barack Obama."

Obama responded on Friday with an ad that accused the Republican of favoring a 25 percent tax cut for millionaires, tax breaks for oil companies and corporations that move jobs overseas and a tax increase for working families. By contrast, it says, the president wants "the wealthy to pay a little more so the middle class pays less."