IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Trust, but verify

When John McCain ran for president four years ago, Mitt Romney was on his short list, and as part of the vetting process, Romney turned over 23 years' worth of tax returns. Soon after, McCain picked a half-term governor of Alaska, whom he barely knew, as his running mate.

Of course, there's been a controversy of late over whether Romney didn't pay taxes for 10 years -- an unsubstantiated rumor passed along by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Yesterday, Jon Ralston asked McCain whether Reid's claim is true, since McCain would presumably be in a position to know for sure.

For those who can't watch clips online, McCain said he didn't personally review all of the materials from all of the potential running mates, but added, "I am absolutely confident that [Romney] ... did pay taxes. Nothing in his tax returns showed that he did not pay taxes."

That may very well be true, and there's very little evidence to the contrary.

But we keep running into the same problem with this story: voters are simply supposed to take Romney's, and now McCain's, word for it. The candidate and his allies make a lot of claims about what the hidden tax returns show, and the candidate and his allies know the materials are readily available; but the documents are still hidden from public scrutiny.

The moral of the story: trust, but verify. McCain says Romney paid his tax bill, and I certainly hope that's true. But how can voters know for sure unless Romney chooses disclosure over secrecy?