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Obama’s desk, meet the buck

Guy W. Farmer

President Harry S. Truman used to have a sign on his desk saying “The buck stops here.” I think President Obama should emulate his fellow Democrat by taking personal responsibility for the scandals plaguing his administration. That’s the only way to put these scandals behind him.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Benghazi, where four American diplomats, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed by al-Qaida-linked terrorists last Sept. 11. In my opinion, the Obama administration — with particular attention to the State Department — concocted a cover-up to protect the president and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during last fall’s presidential election campaign.

If they had engaged in full disclosure right from the beginning, they wouldn’t be under siege today in the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. They should have followed public-affairs rule No. 1: Divulge as much of the unclassified truth as quickly as you can. That’s what we did in Grenada in 1983, and it worked for us.

The president also is dealing with a very troubling Internal Revenue Service scandal in which the agency admits targeting the tea party and other conservative groups that were applying for tax-exempt status. Although acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller fell on his sword and resigned, the tax-collection agency obviously needs a thorough house-cleaning. Miller told Congress that “foolish mistakes were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.” That’s bureaucratic double-speak; Miller deserved to be fired.

Ultra-liberal Attorney General Eric Holder promised to investigate the IRS, which he supervises. So the fox will investigate the henhouse. I don’t have much faith in Holder, who sues states that try to help the Justice and Homeland Security departments enforce our nation’s immigration laws.

“We will be appropriately aggressive and let the facts take us where they may,” Holder said. That sounds a lot like what Mrs. Clinton said about Benghazi, and we still don’t really know the truth about what happened there. As far as disciplining the employees who misbehaved, one IRS official was reassigned and another one was given counseling, which demonstrates how difficult it is to fire career federal employees.

I managed to fire exactly one non-performing U.S. Foreign Service officer during my 28-year diplomatic career, and that required a ton of paperwork even though it was apparent that the employee was riding the federal gravy train without doing any real work. In the private sector, he would have been fired on the spot.

Finally, Obama and Holder are under fire for issuing subpoenas for the phone records of some 20 Associated Press reporters and editors. That looks like a clear violation of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press. Holder recused himself from that decision and blamed it on his deputy, Jim Cole.

“The Justice Department’s secret investigation of AP reporters’ phone records and IRS targeting of conservative groups have the potential to damage both the Obama legacy and … public trust in the federal government,” wrote Margaret Talbot in the liberal New Yorker. “This is an administration that is uncommonly touchy about government officials who leak to the press,” she added, while noting that the same administration “engages … in self-aggrandizing leaks on a regular basis.” Remember how quick the White House was to leak details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden?

You get the idea. The responsibility for these transgressions lies squarely at the desk of President Barack Obama, because that’s where the buck stops.

Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.