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Bill Clinton: Romney investment queries are 'relevant' to election

Former president Bill Clinton spoke out about the economy's role in the 2012 election — and told TODAY's Savannah Guthrie that questions of Mitt Romney's investment history are fair game. 

“Our economy doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” said the former president, citing the economic slowdown in Europe, China, Russia and Brazil. “All that affects us,” he said, “And, you know, I’m not sure both sides want the economy to get better.” President Obama wants the economy to improve, he said, but pointed to Republican Senator Mitch McConnell who, according to Clinton, has prioritized winning the election.

Guthrie asked Clinton if he believed Republicans are rooting for the economy to fail. 

“No, I didn't say that. Senator McConnell did. And Senator McConnell said his number one goal was not to get the economy going again. It was to defeat the president. So I hope they're not rooting for it to fail. I think, you know, they really may believe that austerity now is the right policy.”

Clinton said queries into Mitt Romney's foreign bank accounts in Switzerland and the Cayman Islands are relevant to evaluating his fitness for the presidency — "just as relevant as the going over my record as governor got when I ran for president." Though Romney’s Swiss account was closed by his lawyer in 2010, he still has money in the Caymans. “He's said, basically — ‘I'd be a better president 'cause I know how to create jobs 'cause that's what I did.’ And he's going to take credit for running a successful Olympics, for example. So all your work life before you run for president is relevant.”

Romney’s decision to release only a year’s worth of tax returns "perplexed" Clinton, as candidates typically release “10, 11 years. And I think Senator McCain released over 20 years of tax returns” when he ran in 2008. George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, released 12 years of returns in 1968 when he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination. Romney's choice "struck me as a little odd," Clinton said.

“The voters can make up their own minds about whether they think it's a good thing to for a person who wants to be president to minimize his own tax liability by putting the money in overseas tax shelters,” Clinton said. "And they can decide whether they believe that or not."

As the race for the White House surges forward, the president has proposed a tax increase for wealthier Americans, and to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class. Some democrats disagree, and Mitt Romney has fired back at this proposal, saying that raising taxes in a fragile economy punishes “job creators.” 

Clinton said he sees tax increases for the wealthiest Americans as “the fairest place to get” revenue. Obama, he said, “has said that he's open to tax reform. That he's open to corporate tax reform. That he'd like a comprehensive 10-year settlement. But if they're not going to negotiate with him, which they seem disinclined to do, then he has to stand his ground on this...They're trying to force him to give away the store before they have any discussions with him.”

The interview came as Clinton gets set to head to Africa on a week-long trip through the Clinton Foundation. He hopes to remind the American people that Africa has had “about 15 good years. Six of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world in the last 10 years were in Africa. It's projected that in the next 10 years seven of the 10 fastest growing countries will be in Africa.”

While there, he'll celebrate the successes of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act from 2000, to highlight “the positive things that are happening in Africa and the progress that is being made.”

Viewers can follow President Clinton’s trip through Africa at the ClintonFoundation.org blog.

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