CHARLESTON, SC -- Looking to blunt the momentum of Newt Gingrich's latest surge in the polls, the Romney campaign today held a conference call with former New Hampshire Governor and George H.W. Bush chief of staff John H. Sununu, one of Gingrich's most vocal critics.
On the call, Sununu and Rep. Peter King (R-NY) hammered Gingrich for his "ego," "narcissism," and "baggage" -- including a 1997 ethics investigation that resulted in a $300,000 penalty for Gingrich. Sununu warned that the records of that investigation could serve as the basis for a pro-Obama "October surprise" if Gingrich become the nominee.
"The point is that there was a 7-to-1 vote in that ethics committee, which means the material was pretty convincing, even to the four Republicans, three of which [voted] against him. I think it reflects on his reliability as a leader. And frankly, affects on the fact that whatever Congressman Pelosi was part of that process and whatever Congresswoman Pelosi knows, President Obama knows," Sununu said.
"And if Pelosi knows, Obama knows. And if Obama knows, this is certainly a ripe package for an October surprise. And we ought to at least wring out the laundry now. He ought to ask for the release of the complete records of the ethics process and get that out in public so that he doesn’t become a vulnerable candidate if he wins the nomination and doesn’t become vulnerable to an October surprise."
But when NBC News asked Sununu whether, speaking of potential surprises, Romney should release his personal income tax returns sooner rather than later -- as Romney's Republican rivals have demanded repeatedly of late -- Sununu suggested the tax returns would quickly become a non-issue.
"That issue will work its way out as you guys keep asking the question. I am not an expert on what horrors may be in the tax return. I generally find that the important thing about tax returns is people asking the question. And when they come out, people end up saying 'Is that all there is to that?'" Sununu said. "Probably the most stunning thing you'll see is how generous he's been in supporting charities."
Strikingly, the exchange over Romney's tax returns was not included in the campaign's official transcript or audio file of the call, which was emailed to reporters.
Asked by NBC why the tax return question and answer were omitted from the campaign's transcript, a Romney campaign spokesperson replied: "It was a really long call."