Multi-Millionaire Brian Williams Hits Romney for His 'Unimaginable Wealth'
In an interview with Mitt Romney following the State of the Union Tuesday night, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams used the tax returns of the former Massachusetts governor as a weapon: "And it's fair to ask tonight, will you be explaining further the story of them, the back story....the amounts we've learned about today equaling unfathomable wealth for most Americans..."
Earlier in the evening, at the top of Nightly News, Williams was equally melodramatic: "...Mitt Romney, chose today to release his tax returns from the year 2010. He did it to help stop the questions about his wealth, but in releasing his taxes, he reveals what most Americans will regard as unimaginable wealth...." Williams signaled the media would not let go of the issue: "The numbers in these returns will likely get talked about for the rest of the way in this campaign."
Williams should be reminded that people in luxury Manhattan apartments shouldn't throw stones. A 2008 Parade magazine profile of the NBC anchor detailed his high-end digs at the top of New York's Bloomberg building, surrounded by famous neighbors: "...gutty Yankees import Johnny Damon and Phillies slugger Bobby Abreu, singer Beyoncé Knowles and, in a corporate Big Love, both former GE chief Jack Welch and current G.E. chief Jeffrey Immelt."
The article goes on to note that apartments in that building at the time ranged from "$2 to $27 million."
In addition, TV Guide's 2011 list of the highest paid people in television placed Williams' salary at $13 million annually.
In response to Williams, Romney pointed out: "If you add together my taxes and my charitable contributions, I think in the most recent year it looks like it's over 40%, goes to charity and taxes."
Williams then cited New York's liberal Mayor – and namesake of the anchor's apartment building – Michael Bloomberg as "a fellow wealthy guy" who "pays the highest personal income tax rate, 35%." Williams continued: "He opposes tax provisions that, as he puts it, 'allows some wealthy individuals to pay a lower rate,' and went on to say that if it were up to him, he would end the concept of so-called 'carried interest.'"
Rounding out his grilling of Romney from the left, Williams wondered: "Did it get tougher for you to tell your story and attract your interest in the state [Florida] where you are now?...People are talking about exotic investments in Switzerland and Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands. Did this make it tougher for you?"
Here is a full transcript of the January 24 interview:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been kind enough tonight to join us from Orlando. After all, we did see a lot of each other at last night's Tampa debate. We also wanted to point out we invited former Speaker Newt Gingrich to appear tonight. He declined because of scheduling. He's going to appear tomorrow morning on Today. Governor, thank you for being with us. Once again, did you hear anything in the President's speech that you liked?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, he said a number of things that I thought were interesting. He basically adopted a lot of thoughts that we've had on the campaign trail. Unfortunately, what he says and what he has done are so dramatically different that you have to be a little surprised. The biggest difference, of course, is that he seems to think America's on the right track and things are going well. And here in Florida, as I go around and talk to people, yesterday with eight people that are out of work or have lost their homes, 9.9% unemployment here, home values down, foreclosures up. People are very, very concerned. And the idea that we're on the right track is something which is very foreign to the people here.
WILLIAMS: Did you hear anything that – that seemed to be tailored at you. The headline tonight on the website Politico that covers your industry reads: "President Obama Takes Aim at Mitt Romney in State of the Union Address."
ROMNEY: Well, in some respects I have to compliment the President on adopting a whole series of ideas that I've been speaking about for the last several years. If you want to get the economy going, lower corporate tax rates. Of course he's raised them. Lower the level of regulation. Of course he's added regulation at three times the rate of his predecessor. Take advantage of all of our energy resources. He's really held off on coal, on oil, on gas, on nuclear. Then he said crack down on China. Those are the things I've been saying. Unfortunately, what he's been doing is the exact opposite of that. And that's one of the reasons it's been so hard for this economy to recover.
WILLIAMS: The President notably tonight said, quote, "We don't begrudge financial success in this country. We admire it." Last night, on the eve of today's release of your tax returns, I asked you about them. And it's fair to ask tonight, will you be explaining further the story of them, the back story, especially as you run there in Florida in this critical race, because of the amounts we've learned about today equaling unfathomable wealth for most Americans who will read about them and hear about them?
ROMNEY: Well, Brian, actually, the financial disclosure forms that we put out several months ago indicated what my assets were, what my net worth is. And so that's no particular new news. But I'm sure people will ask questions. As you know, I pay a lot of taxes, millions of dollars in taxes. If you add together my taxes and my charitable contributions, I think in the most recent year it looks like it's over 40%, goes to charity and taxes. So I'm hoping to make a contribution. But look, I've been extraordinarily successful. I didn't inherit that money, I made that money. And in the process, helped put a lot of people in jobs. I'm proud of what I've been able to do and want to make a real contribution to help get more people to work. That's one reason I'm running for president.
WILLIAMS: What do you say to a fellow wealthy guy, like Mayor Bloomberg of New York, made his fortune in the information services industry. He said Wednesday he pays the highest personal income tax rate, 35%. He opposes tax provisions that, as he puts it, "allows some wealthy individuals to pay a lower rate," and went on to say that if it were up to him, he would end the concept of so-called "carried interest."
ROMNEY: You know, we have a low rate for capital gains, which is roughly 15% tax rate. And there are really two reasons for that. One is that the entities that are taxed at the corporate level pay a 35% rate before there's a capital gains, which is the 15%. So you have two layers of tax, 35 at the corporate, then 15 at the individual, for capital gains. So in total, it's about half is being taken by government.
The second reason we have a 15% capital gains tax rate is to encourage people to invest in building new enterprises and starting companies and growing companies and adding jobs. If you raise the capital gains tax rate, there would be less money going into creating jobs. If people want more jobs, they don't want to see higher tax rates on job creators.
WILLIAMS: Did it get tougher for you to tell your story and attract your interest in the state where you are now? We started this conversation tonight, you talked about the economic troubles. We were down there last night. Over 40% of homeowners are underwater, they owe more than the house is worth. I noted Rick Santorum already used the word "gazillions of dollars" to describe your personal wealth. People are talking about exotic investments in Switzerland and Luxembourg and the Cayman Islands. Did this make it tougher for you, despite your wanting to be more transparent and release the tax return?
ROMNEY: The people in Florida that I talk with and I spoke with a large group of folks today, but I sat around a table just yesterday with a number of folks. They want someone who knows how to fix things. They're not interested in attacking someone else because they've been successful. They're interested in finding someone who understands how to get this economy going again.
And they've watched this president over the last three years – and for the first two years, by the way, who had full rein in Congress, he could have done anything he wanted to do – Now he's talking about all these new ideas of what he's going to do. Well where was he during his first two years? Why didn't he get these done during his first two years? So they want someone who they believe will actually get the job done, who knows how to make America work.
And we've got a lot of good people running but I'm the only person that's actually run something before. Run two business, run an Olympics, helped run a state. That experience people want to see helping get this economy going again. Look, people here in Florida, they're tired of this almost 10% unemployment. They're tired of record foreclosures. They want help. They want someone who knows how to provide it.
WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, thank you very much. I know, you've got another debate Thursday night. At the rate these debates are coming, at this rate we'll probably see you in another couple of days. Good seeing you last night in Tampa. Thank you for your time and attention tonight.
ROMNEY: Thanks, Brian. Good to be with you.
WILLIAMS: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney with us from Orlando. David Gregory, first extended conversation he's had since today's release.
DAVID GREGORY: Well, and I think it's very interesting. I think for the first time I heard Governor Romney talk about his tax rate and really try to make the case for it, which is not to apologize for being successful and to try to help Americans understand that there are two layers of taxes to somebody who's just earning on capital gains and trying to make that case. On the face of it, sure, it's a difficult sell for a lot of Americans who don't pay taxes at that rate, but that's what he's got to try to explain in more and more detail and try to neutralize this issue.
- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.