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Will Romney be haunted by Staples divorce case?

October 25, 2012: 12:05 PM ET

Trying to turn Staples from a positive into a negative.

FORTUNE -- This morning's political sideshow revolves about The Boston Globe getting a judge to unseal Mitt Romney's June 1991 testimony in the divorce proceedings of Staples  founder Tom Stemberg. And like yesterday's political sideshow -- thanks Mr. Trump -- this one is unlikely to amount to much.

To be sure, Stemberg's divorce was ugly. Soap opera ugly.

But Romney's testimony doesn't have anything to do with alleged affairs or child custody. Instead, it apparently was about how to assess the future value of Staples (SPLS), the Bain-backed office supply chain where Romney still served as a director. The insinuation, of course, is that Romney understated the figures in order to help his pal get a smaller settlement.

Not surprisingly, Romney attorney Robert Jones already has chimed in with the following statement: "These tabloid charges being shopped by Gloria Allred, one of President Obama's most prominent supporters, are absolutely false. Every time a court has reviewed the allegations of her client over the last 24 years, they have been rejected.  There is no new information here."

For the sake of argument, however, let's assume that Romney was wildly off-base -- and that Staples ended up becoming far more valuable than he had predicted (we'll know for sure later today, once the testimony is formally released). To prove he lied, however, Romney's testimony would have to be contradicted by one of two things: (1) Information in annual letters sent to Bain Captial to its limited partners, which likely would have included financial forecasts for portfolio companies like Staples; and/or (2) Public statements made by, or on behalf of, the Staples board.

As for the Bain letters, I can't reasonably imagine anyone finds them before November 6. These predated the digital age, and were for funds that are dead and buried. It's likely that paper versions remain deep in the archives of Bain or of some of its older investors, but I don't expect that anyone will release them at all, let alone before ballots are cast. Moreover, wouldn't such records have been subpoenaed by attorneys for Stemberg's wife at the time?

MORE: Could Staples go private?

Moreover, wouldn't those same attorneys have noticed if Romney's valuations differed from what Staples was publicly telling Wall Street? Remember, Staples had been a public company for around two years at the time of Romney's testimony.

[Update: It seems Romney's 1991 testimony related to the value of Staples stock three years earlier, when Stemberg actually got divorced, in a follow-up proceeding to see if the shares had been undervalued at the time.]

To be clear, I'm not asserting that Romney told the truth or lied about what he believed to be the future value of Staples. I'm simply saying that evidence of the latter would be very difficult to uncover.

Perhaps some would use Romney's testimony to argue that the GOP torchbearer isn't right 100% of the time about future economic conditions (no matter his rhetoric). But didn't we already know that from the handful of failed Bain Capital deals during his tenure?

In other words, don't expect this story to have legs.

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About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

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