It's a convenient truth, to parody the one-time, almost-president Al Gore. Bank of America ( BAC) CEO Ken Lewis gets to blame former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for the abuse of shareholder trust during the Merrill Lynch ( MER) acquisition. Lewis also pointed the finger at Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke for pressuring him to violate disclosure requirements and hide the growing troubles related to the takeover of Merrill Lynch. Lewis passed the blame for failing to alert shareholders about the surprise $15 billion loss Merrill reported just prior to being absorbed into Bank of America. "It wasn't up to me," Lewis said in testimony to the New York attorney general in February, according to transcripts obtained by the Wall Street Journal. Maybe not. But following orders is no excuse for doing the wrong thing. And shame on our government for thinking that it's OK to subvert the rule of law when it is inconvenient. Maybe disclosing the truth about Merrill would have added to the crippling fear during that delicate period at the end of last year. But shareholders had a right to know. To be fair to the Obama team, the Paulson role in all this falls on the administration of President George W. Bush. But Bernanke is still in the game. I'm not inclined to forgive him for doing wrong because he thought it was right. Wrong is wrong. Regulators who cross that line lose all credibility when they try to enforce the rules the next time. Ever hear of the phrase public trust, Ben?
Anything we should know about the Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual purchases by JPMorgan Chase ( JPM)? How about the Wells Fargo ( WFC) takeover of Wachovia? Do I even dare to ask about AIG ( AIG)? What other nasty secrets are locked in the vaults over at the Fed and Treasury offices? I'm sure the "janitors" are busy sweeping as much as they can under the carpets. Best the we not know, apparently. As for Lewis, it's awfully convenient that you got to package all those Merrill Lynch problems into that $15 billion loss before you completed the takeover. That certainly helped make your first-quarter numbers look good. So please don't pretend you didn't have any vested interest in all this secrecy. Shareholders will remember how sold them out. So good luck at your annual meeting next week.