Last night Mitt Romney was offered an easy way out of a hole he’d dug for himself, and he dug himself in deeper. Caught in a lie, he’s now in a bind(er). (More)

Tree squirrels generally avoid holes in the ground, except the small ones we dig as pantries. Our cousins the chipmunks and prairie dogs dig deeper holes, and that’s fine for them because they live there. But there’s a difference between digging a hole to store food for the winter, or to make a comfortable underground nest … and falling into a hole and trying to dig your way out.

Mitt Romney fell into a hole back in April when his campaign was asked if he would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. That act was passed after the Supreme Court ruled that Lilly Ledbetter, who learned she had been underpaid for decades because she was a woman, could not sue her employer for back pay. The Court said she should have sued as soon as her employer began underpaying her … never mind that she couldn’t have known until she was able to review the records, almost twenty years later.

Congress tried to pass the bill in 2007, but Senate Republicans blocked it, insisting it would lead to “frivolous” lawsuits. That’s Republican-speak for “a lawsuit filed by one of Those People against a billionaire or a big corporation.” Congress took it up again in January of 2009, and had it passed by the day President Obama was inaugurated. It was the first bill he signed into law.

It seems reasonable enough that women should get the same pay for doing the same jobs as men, so all Romney’s campaign had to say was agree. Instead, their reply was “We’ll get back to you,” following a pattern of evasion that has become the hallmark of his candidacy.

The Romney campaign never did “get back” on whether he would have signed the bill so, during last night’s town hall debate, undecided voter Katherine Fenton asked this question:

In what new ways to you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn?

President Obama gave an excellent answer, talking about being raised by his mother and grandmother, mentioning and summarizing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, and his work to ensure better access to higher education so women can compete with men for top-paying jobs.

Moderator Candy Crowley then turned the question to Mitt Romney, who said this:

Thank You. And important topic, and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men.

And I – and I went to my staff, and I said, “How come all the people for these jobs are – are all men.” They said, “Well, these are the people that have the qualifications.” And I said, “Well, gosh, can’t we – can’t we find some – some women that are also qualified?”

And – and so we – we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet.

I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks,” and they brought us whole binders full of women.

I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my Cabinet and my senior staff, that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states, and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.

Even if that story were true, it would not reflect well on Romney. His story implies that – despite his tenure at Bain Capital and the Salt Lake City Olympics, and despite his year-long gubernatorial campaign – he did not personally know any women who were qualified to serve in his state cabinet. Oops.

But it gets worse because, as The Phoenix‘s David Bernstein reports, Romney’s story is not true:

What actually happened was that in 2002 – prior to the election, not even knowing yet whether it would be a Republican or Democratic administration – a bipartisan group of women in Massachusetts formed MassGAP to address the problem of few women in senior leadership positions in state government. There were more than 40 organizations involved with the Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus (also bipartisan) as the lead sponsor.

They did the research and put together the binder full of women qualified for all the different cabinet positions, agency heads, and authorities and commissions. They presented this binder to Governor Romney when he was elected.

I have written about this before, in various contexts; tonight I’ve checked with several people directly involved in the MassGAP effort who confirm that this history as I’ve just presented it is correct – and that Romney’s claim tonight, that he asked for such a study, is false.

That’s right. Those “binders full of women” came from a bipartisan women’s group, and were presented to the newly-elected governor without his ever having asked anyone to find qualified women to serve in his cabinet.

Romney will doubtless claim he misspoke, or misremembered. But here’s the thing. Like his infamous “47 percent” comments, this was not a one-liner where he transposed a word or two. It was a long answer, detailing conversations with his staff, casting himself as the Hero who stood up to the Old Boys Club Villains and rescued the Qualified But Overlooked Ingenues …

… and it was yet another Romney Lie.

Talking Points Memo editor and publisher Josh Marshall thinks this will be a day-two story – one that persists beyond the immediate coverage of the debate – and it should be. As ReutersJack Shafer wrote last week:

To lie about an issue is to be a politician. To lie about a corporation is to be a public relation executive. To lie about a legal matter is to be a lawyer. To lie about international power relations is to be a diplomat. But to lie about who you are is to be a hypocrite, and voters despise hypocrites.

Last night, yet again, Mitt Romney lied about who he is. He was in a hole, and he kept on digging.

Good day and good nuts.