Citing probe, guv withdraws from commerce job
Richardson plans to keep his job as governor of New Mexico and says grand jury investigation will reveal no wrongdoing
This article has been updated.
Bill Richardson, who was President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for commerce secretary, withdrew his name from consideration for the position today because of an ongoing federal investigation into allegations of pay-to-play in his administration, NBC News is reporting.
“Let me say unequivocally that I and my administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact,” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell quoted Richardson as saying in an exclusive report. “But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process.”
No date had been set for Richardson’s confirmation hearing, and pressure on the governor has been escalating as national media outlets have been shining increasing light on the grand jury investigation in recent weeks.
Richardson, according to the statement provided to NBC News, plans to continue in his role as governor.
“I appreciate the confidence President-elect Obama has shown in me, and value our friendship and working partnership. I told him that I am eager to serve in the future in any way he deems useful. And like all Americans, I pray for his success and the success of our beloved country,” NBC News quoted Richardson as saying.
Spokesmen and spokeswomen for Richardson and Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, who was set to become the state’s first woman to serve as governor, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Associated Press was also independently reporting on Richardson’s withdrawal.
Obama, according to Mitchell’s report, said he accepted Richardson’s decision to withdraw with “deep regret.” He did not immediately name a new choice for the commerce job.
“Gov. Richardson is an outstanding public servant and would have brought to the job of commerce secretary and our economic team great insights accumulated through an extraordinary career in federal and state office,” NBC News quoted the president-elect as saying.
What started as an FBI probe is now a full-fledged grand jury investigation into whether there is any connection between the state’s awarding of a lucrative contract to a California company and sizeable contributions the company made to political action committees formed by Richardson. CDR Financial earned almost $1.5 million advising the state on interest-rate swaps and other business related to $1.6 billion in bonds appropriated for a massive transportation project.
Meanwhile, in 2003 and 2004, CDR Financial gave $75,000 to Richardson’s political action committee Si Se Puede!, and the company’s head, David Rubin, gave $25,000 to Moving America Forward, another Richardson PAC.
The grand jury has already heard testimony from officials at J.P. Morgan, who worked with the state and CDR, and from officials with Richardson’s PACs.
No information released publicly has directly linked Richardson to the probe, but the investigation centers around whether staffers in Richardson’s office influenced the hiring of CDR. The governor has repeatedly ducked questions about the investigation.
Mitchell, in her report, said Richardson was hesitant to withdraw his name from consideration for the position, and called the development “a major setback for a shining political career.” Richardson is a former congressman, U.N. ambassador and energy secretary. According to Mitchell, Richardson “certainly could become a backup choice for a future role” in the Obama administration if he is cleared.
Here’s the video of Mitchell’s report:
Update, 12:50 p.m.
Here are the full statements from Richardson and Obama:
“It is with deep regret that I accept Governor Bill Richardson’s decision to withdraw his name for nomination as the next Secretary of Commerce. Governor Richardson is an outstanding public servant and would have brought to the job of Commerce Secretary and our economic team great insights accumulated through an extraordinary career in federal and state office. 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. Although we must move quickly to fill the void left by Governor Richardson’s decision, I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration.”
“For nearly three decades, I have been honored to serve my state and our nation in Congress, at the U.N., as Secretary of Energy and as governor. So when the President-elect asked me to serve as Secretary of Commerce, I felt a duty to answer the call. I felt that duty particularly because America is facing such extraordinary economic challenges. The Department of Commerce must play an important role in solving them by helping to grow the new jobs and businesses America so badly needs.
“It is also because of that sense of urgency about the work of the Commerce Department that I have asked the President-elect not to move forward with my nomination at this time. I do so with great sorrow. But a pending investigation of a company that has done business with New Mexico state government promises to extend for several weeks or, perhaps, even months.
“Let me say unequivocally that I and my Administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact. But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process. Given the gravity of the economic situation the nation is facing, I could not in good conscience ask the President-elect and his Administration to delay for one day the important work that needs to be done.
“So, for now, I will remain in the job I love, Governor of New Mexico, and will continue to work every day, with Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, to make a positive difference in the lives of New Mexicans. I believe she will be a terrific governor in the future. I appreciate the confidence President-elect Obama has shown in me, and value our friendship and working partnership. I told him that I am eager to serve in the future in any way he deems useful. And like all Americans, I pray for his success and the success of our beloved country.”
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