Romney's Former Classmate: 'You Have To Take It Into Account'

By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown
By: CNN Posted By Doug Brown

Washington (CNN) – Phillip Maxwell wishes he had done something to stop it.

Maxwell, a Michigan attorney, is still haunted by what he claims he witnessed on the campus of the state's elite Cranbrook School in 1965: a young Mitt Romney and a group of friends holding down a classmate named John Lauber and cutting off chunks of his long hair.

"It was not an event you take a lot of pride in. And it was that way for all of us," Maxwell told CNN.

Maxwell confirmed the story, first reported in the Washington Post. However, he insisted the incident was far worse than a high school prank.

"I'm a lawyer. I know what an assault is. This kid was scared. He was terrified. That's an assault," Maxwell said.

Romney said in an interview with Fox News Radio he does not recall the incident described in the Post article. But the former Massachusetts governor acknowledged he engaged in pranks that "might have gone too far" and apologized for any harm done during his time at Cranbrook.

"Back in high school, I did some dumb things, and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that," Romney said.

Maxwell told CNN he is disappointed in Romney's response to the story.

"He says he doesn't remember it and I find it difficult to believe," Maxwell said in a telephone interview.

"It's unfortunate that Mitt simply hasn't owned up to his behavior," he added.

Maxwell, who told ABC News he is a registered independent who has voted for both Democrats and Republicans, said the episode is "relevant" in the campaign as a window into Romney's character.

"I guess you have to take it into account. Are you the kind of person who would stop the abuse of an innocent person?" Maxwell asked.

In an interview on a separate topic for the June issue of Automobile Magazine, however, Maxwell said he will not be casting his ballot for Romney, though added praise for the candidate.

"I'm a Democrat, so I won't vote for him," says Maxwell. "But he'd probably make a pretty good president. He's very smart, very principled.

To this day, Maxwell regrets he will never have the chance to make amends with Lauber who, according to the Post, died in 2004.

"I wish I could have apologized to him," Maxwell said.

Lauber's family said they were "aggrieved that John would be used to further a political agenda," according to a statement obtained by The New York Times.

Late Thursday, the Romney campaign provided statements from other former classmates of the GOP contender.

"Mitt was a thoughtful guy with a great sense of humor who cared about his classmates. He had a good perspective on how to balance all the pressures high school students face. He would never go out and do anything mean spirited. Clownish, yes. Never mean," Richard Moon, one ex-classmate said in the statement furnished by the campaign.

"Mitt never had a malicious bone in his body – trying to imply or characterize him as a bully is absurd," John French, another former classmate, said in another statement released by Romney's staff.

Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said French "wasn't involved in incident and doesn't remember it happening." She did not elaborate on the statement issued by Moon.

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