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Billygate: Why Obama dumped Gov. Richardson now

Democratic President-elect Barack Obama names Democratic New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as his new secretary of Commerce which Richardson has now resigned

New Mexico Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson withdrew his name as Commerce Secretary-designate this afternoon for the new administration of President-elect Barack Obama.

With an almost audible sigh of relief barely two weeks before his inauguration Obama, in a printed statement that won't provide archival video footage, said he accepted the resignation-before-actually-taking-office "with deep regret."

And 16 days before becoming president, Obama sought to turn the PR smudge and federal probe of Richardson, his first Latino Cabinet pick, and his government into a patriotic plus: "It is a measure of his willingness to put the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the Cabinet in order to avoid any delay in filling this important economic post at this critical time."

It may also be a measure of the inadequacy of the new Obama administration's vetting process that it somehow missed or ignored the ongoing and widely-reported grand jury testimony over alleged incidents in 2004 in New Mexico, part of a broad federal investigation of selling state services. It would seem to be an obvious something for the experienced Richardson to include when completing the 63-page questionaire given to potential Obama appointees.

While everyone was enjoying their holidays and watching Obama's Hawaiian vacation, word continued to leak that Richardson and his gubernatorial aides are under investigation by a federal grand jury probing the possibility that they steered state bond business to a Beverly Hills firm in return for $100,000 in donations to two Richardson PACs back in 2004. (See original Ticket item from Dec. 26 below.)

(UPDATE: Press secretary-designate Robert Gibbs said tonight, "I think our vettors have done a good job.")

Unspoken by both Obama and Richardson today was the political reality that the Democrat-controlled Senate, which would have to confirm Democrat Richardson for the new Democratic president, is already in a mortifying fight with Illinois' Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich over a similar federal "pay-to-play" probe of his operations, including the alleged auction of his nomination to fill Obama's now-vacant U.S. Senate seat with another Democrat.A political button for the unsuccessful and defunct Democratic presidential campaign of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson

Richardson says he has ordered full state cooperation with the feds. Blagojevich has chosen to fight the federal allegations and Democratic demands that he resign or at least not nominate a Senate replacement. Last week he named former Illinois Democratic Atty. Gen. Roland Burris.

As The Ticket noted this morning, the governor created a real problem for Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid by placing him in the awkward position of barring Burris, an experienced African American Democratic officeholder, from taking the seat of a less-experienced black Democrat, Obama, and becoming the only African American in the Senate.

Both Richardson and Blagojevich deny any wrongdoing. In his statement today the New Mexico governor, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination himself, and whose perfectly-timed rejection of Sen. Hillary Clinton's candidacy and endorsement of Obama boosted the Illinois senator's campaign significantly.

Richardson said the investigation would show his innocence but was likely to drag on for weeks or months, affecting the confirmation process and his ability to work in Washington. Not to mention distract the public and media from the desired message of change to believe in. The Blagojevich fight, not so easy for the new administration or Reid to end, is also likely to drag on for weeks or months.

Now, with Penny Pritzker denied and Richardson out, Obama's got to find another Commerce secretary. How about James Carville?

As Obama traveled to Washington today, a day after his family, for pre-inaugural talks about change with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders, the last thing he needs is another ongoing public display of corruption probing. As LittleGreenFootballs put it so succinctly: "Richardson throws himself under the bus."

The abrupt end of a Cabinet nominee's career is not unprecedented. As the new White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, knows well, the early days of the Bill Clinton administration in 1993 were marred with nomination missteps that had to be withdrawn after presenting a brief image of incompetence.

Also, during the shortened run-up to the first inaugural of then Gov. George W. Bush in 2001, Linda Chavez withdrew from being secretary of Labor-designate after revelations that she'd helped an illegal immigrant as her nanny and written some controversial things. That too was described publicly as "voluntary," but behind the scenes it was made clear to her what was expected to avoid further public relations trouble in the early days of an administration.

For a news video report on the Richardson resignation and to see the original Ticket item from December, click on the "Read more" line below.

-- Andrew Malcolm

You need not pay-to-play to receive cellphone alerts on each new Ticket item; just register here. RSS feeds are also available here. And Amazon has Ticket Kindle feeds as well.

Photo credit: Associated Press (Democrats Obama and Bill Richardson, top); (button).

This report on the federal investigation of the new Secretary of Commerce-designate originally appeared in The Ticket on Dec. 26, 2008:

It seems that Illinois' legally challenged Gov. Rod Blagojevich is not the only close Barack Obama associate and Democratic governor being investigated by the feds for possibly selling government business in return for campaign contributions.

New Mexico's Gov. Bill Richardson, who is the newly named Secretary of Commerce in Obama's about-to-be Cabinet, is also being investigated by a federal grand jury in his home state for possibly steering state bond business from the New Mexico Financial Authority toward David Rubin, a significant campaign contributor, according to an NBC News report, among others.

President-elect Barack Obama announces his selection of New Mexico Democrat Governor Bill Richardson as his Secretary of Commerce

Two former state officials say they've recently been questioned by a federal grand jury specifically about allegations that Richardson or aides pushed state business worth nearly $1.5 million in fees toward CDR Financial Products in 2004. The company is headquartered in Beverly Hills.

This was about the same time as CDR's founder, Rubin, donated $100,000 to two of Richardson's political action committees; mainly it appears to cover expenses of the governor and his staff at the Democratic Party's National Convention in Boston that summer.

Rubin also donated another $29,000 to Richardson's unsuccessful presidential campaign this year and last.

The probe is part of a broad national federal exploration of "pay-to-play," in which government officials reap financial or other benefits in return for state business.

Richardson has ignored reporters' questions on the federal investigation, while a spokesman says he's confident the relationship was entirely appropriate and the governor expects state employees to cooperate fully with federal investigators. A CDR spokesman also said the transactions were appropriate.

An Obama transition official has refused to comment on whether the president-elect knew of the investigation before he appointed Richardson to his new Cabinet position.

Obama has called Richardson "my great friend" and said the governor would be a key member of his administration's economic team. Richardson, the first Latino in Obama's Cabinet, described himself the same way.

On Tuesday, the Obama transition team issued a five-page report of its own involvement with Blagojevich, who's charged in a federal criminal complaint with demanding money for state aid, business and his appointment of Obama's Senate replacement.

The Obama team report completely absolved the Obama team of any wrongdoing, as the Ticket reported here. But Obama was already on vacation when the report was issued and has said he won't be talking further about the matter. The president-elect's main Blagojevich contact, new White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel also happened to be unreachable on a vacation in Africa.

Here's the full video report below.

-- Andrew Malcolm

You need not be a governor to receive cellphone alerts on each new Ticket item; just register here. RSS feeds are also available here. And Amazon has Ticket Kindle feeds as well.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (13)

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Good for gov. Judas and good riddence for the rest of us.Hope Richardson joins Blago,and 4 or 5 other democrat governors responsible for corrupting our
institutions to an unprecedented scale.James carville
did his job well and expect other smelly revelations on
soon to be ex-governor Judas.To think that Obama would
go along with Harry Reid in waisting as honest a man as
senator Burris while nominating a crook like Richardson
to his cabinet is most disturbing.We need to know how
much Maddof gave to Obama"s campaign.

I don't get it. These things are completely ordinary politics. Legal or not, if you don't like them, you don't like the feds, fifty states, hundreds of large cities, tens of thousands of counties and other municipal entities, most foriegn countries...

The only thing I can see different about these people is that they are somehow associated with Obama.

On the other hand, if you have an idea for some form of post-capitalist economics, go for it. The world is waiting.


I guess this means we have to continue suffering under Richardson's governorship here. At least until the grand jury finishes its work.

So far the "change" Obama has brought is multiple scandals before assuming office, rather than the traditional, you know, post-inauguration ones.

This fits somehow with how Richardson's state- sponsored film institute in New Mexico was totally uninterested when I contacted them about a screenplay of mine being plagiarized for a film made there (Conspiracy, Val Kilmer). It was a re-make that used several key scenes written by me, but I was not paid nor given credit. Richardson stated publicly in the past how he met with Kilmer; his staff were very evasive about this when I contacted them last year. He was cleared on that investigation, and easy one for him to beat since I am just a severely disabled former US Marine, a little like the character and story in question in said film. Mr. Richardson really is quite astute at commerce.

Obama is crook!!

Next up will be Hilda Solis, the congesscritter that said "all immigrants are American" with no legal distrinctions necessary. "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges" = Hilda Solis. Hispanics without corruption tails are indeed a rare breed. Just look at Mexifornia, Fabian Nunez and his murdering son, Tony Villar and his multiple scandels, etc.

I'm sure Mr. Obama can find another Hispanic to replace Mr. Richardson and pacify the illegal-alien lobby.

Can't you understand that it's Latino culture and ethics to take bribes? Richardson did nothing wrong, he just followed different cultural and ethic standards. And only racists would hold this against him. After all, all cultures are equal, and morality is relative, so we are in no position to judge him.

Also, if he remained a member of Obama administration, he would make the government so more vibrant, with colorful people taking bribes and playing favors, just like the Mexican government does. Without him, it will be the old boring business and usual.

Does the minessota electoral board pass the smell test?How much did Franken's campaign spend between nov 4 and today ?Just exactly what role did
ACORN and G Sorros's slimey moove on org play in this sting operation ?

I watch these jokers who supposedly represent Americans and it is unreal. The shear criminality of it all is breathtaking. From Blagoivitch to Richards, to all those in the last year that have been busted for their theivery and criminality. I sometimes get the feeling America is lost, and I truly feel for the younger generation that their parents have been such poor stewards to the nation that has given them so much. What is left for the youth but despair? Perhaps they will be in charge of cleaning up the mess their parents have left. P.S. let's not judge them if they decide that radical methods are neccessary, when they had no real choice.

Comrade Richardson has more important things to do with his time--like trying to stay out of jail, for instance. What a bunch of "leaders" we have in this nation.

Ilive in a state that has a crook for govennor.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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