On CNN’s The Situation Room on Tuesday, White House reporter Brianna Keilar took apart what Wolf Blitzer called “the attack ad many see as over the top blaming Mitt Romney for a woman's death from cancer.” It’s an ad from Priorities USA, the super PAC operated by former White House spokesman Bill Burton.
Then, in the next hour, Blitzer repeatedly pressed current Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki to disavow the ad – saying “it’s full of falsehoods” -- and she refused, and bizarrely claimed Team Obama has as much do with Burton’s ad “as we do with Michael Phelps winning gold medals last week.” Here’s how Keilar found holes in the ad [video and transcript below]:
WOLF BLITZER: Meanwhile, a new attack ad by a Super PAC backing President Obama basically blames Mitt Romney for a woman's death from cancer after his company, Bain Capital, shut down the steel mill where the woman's husband worked. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Brianna Keilar. She's watching the story for us.
Brianna, on the surface, it seems pretty outrageous to blame Mitt Romney for the death of this woman. That's a pretty outrageous claim, but what's going on here?
BRIANNA KEILAR: It does when you dig deeper here, Wolf, because this ad makes it sound like this woman passed away shortly after Bain Capital closed down the steel plant where her husband worked. But in reality, she passed away five years after it closed.
And the former steel worker in this ad, I spoke to him on the phone today, and he said that during some of that time, his wife had insurance through her employer. So, Wolf, this is a heart-wrenching story, but it's not accurate.
KEILAR (voice-over): Joe Soptic worked at GST steel in Missouri for almost 30 years. He was laid of after Bain Capital acquired the plant, eventually closing it down. Now, Soptic is featured in a new ad by Priorities USA Action, the Super PAC supporting President Obama's re-election.
JOE SOPTIC: When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my healthcare. And my family lost their healthcare. And a short time after that, my wife became ill. And then, I took her up to the Jackson County Hospital and admitted her for pneumonia. That's when they found the cancer. And by then, it was stage 4. There was nothing they could do for her.
KEILAR: It’s a heartbreaking story, but the ad does not tell all of it. In 1999, Mitt Romney leaves Bain for the Salt Lake Olympics, stopping day-to-day oversight of the company but remaining CEO. In 2001, Joe Soptic loses his job when Bain closes the plant. His wife still has insurance, though, from her employer, Savers Thrift Store.
A year later, Romney formerly leaves Bain, and it's that year, 2002 or perhaps 2003, Soptic tells CNN that his wife leaves her job because of an injury. That's when he became uninsured without fallback insurance from her husband. A few years later, in 2006, she goes to the hospital, is diagnosed with cancer, and dies just days later.
Soptic, an Obama supporter, who has appeared in another ad back in May for the Obama campaign blames Romney for the loss of his job and his insurance.
SOPTIC [phone interview]: That's the way that I feel. I mean, Mitt Romney, he's a very rich man. I mean, it's obvious if you watch him on television that he's completely out of touch with the average family, or you know, middle income people. I don't think he has any concept as to how when you close a big company like that how it affects families, the community. You know, it affects everyone.
KEILAR: The Romney campaign is blasting the ad. A spokeswoman saying President Obama's allies continue to use discredited and dishonest attacks in a contemptible effort to conceal the administration's deplorable economic record. The Obama campaign and the White House are keeping their distance from the debate. White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said he has yet to see the ad.
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm simply saying that I have not seen this. So, how could I possibly assess it without --
KEILAR: Will you assess it later?
CARNEY: If you ask me tomorrow, sure.
KEILAR (on-camera): Now, Wolf, I followed up with Carney after the briefing, and he told me that he may look at the ad, but if I ask about it, quote, "my assessment will be, I have no assessment." This is kind of a case of a Super PAC being able to do the dirty work and the campaign and the candidate, and in this case, the White House trying to keep its hands clean, Wolf.
BLITZER: So, the White House at least now not touching this commercial. The Obama campaign, I take it, isn't saying anything about it either, is that right? What about the Super PAC, itself? What are they saying?
KEILAR: That's right. Everything is being referred to the Super PAC. I spoke with Bill Burton, a founder of Priorities USA Action. And I pressed him on this, are you drawing this link between Mitt Romney and this woman's death? And he said, no, we're not doing that. But Wolf, I think a lot of people who looked at that ad, certainly you, certainly I, did not walk away from it with that impression.
Actually, Burton told Politico he certainly was drawing a link:
“We’re illustrating how long it took for communities and individuals to recover from the closing of these businesses,” Burton responded. “Families and individuals had to find new jobs, new sources of health insurance and a way to make up for the pensions they lost. Mitt Romney has had an enduring impact on the lives of thousands of men and women and for many of them, that impact has been devastating.”
In the 6 pm hour, Blitzer brought on Obama campaign press secretary Jen Psaki and Romney adviser Bay Buchanan. Psaki refused repeatedly to condemn the ad:
WOLF BLITZER: Let's take a closer look now, Kate, at what may be the harshest political ad so far of this political season. [Section of ad replayed] You want to associate or disassociate yourself with this pro- Obama super PAC ad?
JEN PSAKI: Well, as you know, we have about as much to do with the priorities ads, the super PAC ads, as Michael -- as we do with Michael Phelps winning gold medals last week. I can't speak to the ad.
I mean, there's a larger question here we've been discussing for months, which is what we do and don't know about Mitt Romney's time at Bain, how long he was there, what decisions he was involved in, you know, who he laid off, who he was involved with laying off, and what benefits were cut.
BLITZER: Brianna Keilar did a fact check of that ad, and it is -- it's full of falsehoods. So you don't have to -- obviously, you had nothing to do with it. The campaign is not associated with the super PAC. But you can say, "You know what? We want to disassociate ourselves from that ad, because it's repulsive." Do you want to say something?
PSAKI: Well, first, Wolf, we have nothing to do with the ad. We're focused on our race. We're focused on going to Colorado tomorrow, and that's where we're at from the campaign side.
KATE BOLDUAN: Do you want to have inaccurate ads, inaccurate information out there? If this was coming from a Romney super PAC, you guys would be all over this.
PSAKI: Well, look, I mean, we're focused about when the president goes out there, and he's talking about the campaign, he's talking about the differences between himself and Mitt Romney, she's going to be out there tomorrow, talking about women's health care, and providing access to affordable health care for women. That's what this race is about. We can't speak to the super PAC ads. We don't have anything to do with them. So I don't have anything further on the super PAC ads.
BLITZER: Because it is pretty -- pretty serious here when you're not doing it, but the super PAC is making this allegation that Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of this woman when that's simply not true.
PSAKI: Well, Wolf, you know, I didn't -- I wasn't involved with making the ad. No one on the campaign was involved with making the ad. Let the super PAC speak to that.
Bay Buchanan just dropped a rhetorical bomb on Psaki:
BUCHANAN: This is typical. We have the most powerful man in the world, president of the United States, takes no responsibility for his campaign, no responsibility for his PACs, no responsibility for his cabinet members, who are out there raising money for this PAC so this ad can run. Takes no responsibility for the pain and suffering this country is suffering. The people in this country are suffering with the high unemployment, loss of homes, falling into poverty.
The only thing he takes responsibility for is the businesses other people are building.
[Hat tip: SMotley]