EDITORIAL: Rubber-stamp government

Disavowal of a signature is dodging accountability

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The trifecta of scandals bedeviling the Obama White House shares a common theme: high-level government officials put their signatures on a document and later disavow accountability for its contents. Call it government by rubber stamp.

The Internal Revenue Service has been caught harassing conservative organizations that applied for tax-exempt status. Lois Lerner, a high official of the IRS, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last month, “I have not done anything wrong,” then invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to say anything more. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, begs to differ. He is suing the tax-collection agency on behalf of 27 targeted conservative groups, and says he has collected 15 letters the agency sent to the organizations bearing Ms. Lerner’s signature. At least one appeared to be by a rubber stamp.

Whether Ms. Lerner personally signed the letters or granted underlings permission to apply her name is beside the point. A taxpayer who signs a 1040 that contains an honest mistake isn’t allowed to disavow responsibility. Ms. Lerner deserves no better treatment.

The White House is similarly scandalized by the role of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in the Justice Department’s snooping on reporters at The Associated Press and Fox News. The nation’s top law enforcement officer had said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in May that the use of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists “is not something that I have ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy.” Within several days, reports surfaced that Mr. Holder had indeed signed off on a request for a warrant to secretly seize the personal emails of Fox News Channel reporter James Rosen. White House spokesman Jay Carney’s explanation that the Justice Department never actually intended to prosecute Mr. Rosen doesn’t match with the contents of the warrant application, which called Mr. Rosen a “co-conspirator.”

During January’s Capitol Hill hearings on the terrorist attack at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denied knowledge of requests for additional protection. She said “security professionals” were in charge of keeping embassies safe: “I didn’t see those requests. They didn’t come to me. I didn’t approve them. I didn’t deny them.” However, a report in April from congressional Republicans concluded that a diplomatic cable from the State Department to the Tripoli embassy bearing Mrs. Clinton’s signature acknowledged a “request for additional security, but instead articulates a plan to scale back security assets for the U.S. Mission in Libya, including the Benghazi Mission.”

The Obama administration’s scandals emphasize the urgent need for Congress to put an end to this no-fault government, so called, in which high-ranking officials dodge responsibility for actions taken over their signatures. This misbehavior wouldn’t fly on Wall Street (or Main Street, either). In 2002, Congress required CEOs of public companies to sign and attest to the truth of their financial reports. Private-sector bosses can’t claim their business is too big to manage every detail; they face large fines and up to five years in prison for a material lie.

Public servants must be held to an even higher standard. A person’s signature once meant putting his good name on the line. Congress must take the rubber stamps away from government bureaucrats and require them to accept personal responsibility for their signatures.

The Washington Times

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