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Monday, January 05, 2009

Richardson Withdrawal: So Sudden, So Odd

I'm hearing that nobody saw this coming.

Richardsonespanola2For instance, there were a number of political and social gatherings over the holidays, and the general consensus was that Bill Richardson's Commerce Secretary appointment would pretty much cruise through the Senate. Oh, there might be a question or two about the longstanding FBI investigation of CDR Financial Products, which did some work for the New Mexico Finance Authority back in 2004, but nothing serious. Everyone seemed geared towards the future, and a smooth transition for Lt. Gov. Diane Denish as she moved into the driver's seat in Santa Fe.

Apparently, the news of Richardson's ouster was a shocking surprise to many, perhaps even Richardson himself. According to a leak reported in a CNN article, Richardson was "stunned" at being informed he was out:

Two Democratic strategists outside Obama's transition team told CNN that Obama aides pushed the withdrawal because they did not want an ethical distraction in the wake of controversy surrounding embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Federal prosecutors allege that Blagojevich, a Democrat, had hoped to barter Obama's Senate seat for either money or influence.

One of the Democratic strategists described Richardson as "stunned." But Democrats who talked with CNN noted the withdrawal is in keeping with the Obama philosophy of resolving issues quickly.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman was blindsided as well, according to an report in the Albuquerque Journal:

Veteran Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said in a Journal interview that he was among those Richardson phoned Sunday morning. Bingaman said he had heard no rumblings in D.C. about a potential Senate showdown over Richardson's confirmation.

"I'm not on the Commerce Committee, where the confirmation hearing would have been held, but I think I would have been hearing if there was any significant opposition to him being confirmed," Bingaman said.

"I thought he would have strong support in his confirmation process, and obviously, I strongly support him," Bingaman said. "... I didn't try to talk him out of it. I just told him I was disappointed, and (that) he would do extremely well in that position."

DianeDenishLt. Gov. Diane Denish apparently had no inkling of Richardson's pending withdrawal from the nomination process either, given her immersion in transition activities with a paid staff of two and a team of 125 volunteer advisors. There were reports just last week that she and Richardson had been checking in by phone and that staffers of the two were in close contact over transition matters.

Preserving Appearances
As this story develops, it looks more and more like Obama was willing to jettison Richardson to avoid even the aroma of questionable ethics at a time when he'll be challenged for his actions surrounding Illinois Gov. Rod Blogojevich and his appointment of Roland Burris to succeed Obama in the Senate. The timing of Richardson's withdrawal this weekend (or "postponement," as Denish termed it) can easily be viewed as Obama trying to clear the decks before the Tuesday showdown, when Burris is set to show up at the U.S. Senate to be sworn in and all hell could break lose.

RichardsondenverDoes anyone doubt that Obama knew all about the FBI probe of CDR Financial and the company's business dealings in New Mexico when they named Richardson as their nominee for Commerce Secretary? Despite the Obama team's leaks yesterday that Richardson was not entirely forthcoming about the matter, no vetting team worth its salt -- especially at the presidential level -- would have okayed an appointment like Richardson's without obtaining full knowledge of any ongoing federal investigation in the potential nominee's home state.

As I said before, nothing new has emerged about the investigation and grand jury proceedings since Obama named Richardson. What has changed is the scrutiny of Obama and the Senate Dems over their very public threats to stop Roland Burris from being sworn in as a Senator. At this juncture, it seems to me that's the real reason Richardson was abruptly dumped as a cabinet appointee.

DenishObamaABQcrShapes of Things to Come?
To my mind, the move to purge Richardson was executed in a sloppy and peculiar manner without regard to the havoc it would cause at this late date, with a New Mexico gubernatorial transition in full swing and a Legislative Session set to start in only a few weeks. I think it makes Obama look rather callous, self-serving and knee-jerk in his decision-making. His responses to the Blago controversy seem panicked, and he and the Senate Dems appear to lack a thorough understanding of the consequences of what has now become an odd crusade against seating Burris. If they succeed, expect the legal ramifications to stay in the news for weeks or even months -- not the kind of distraction we need at a time like this.

Regardless of how this all comes out, I think the Blago and Richardson dustups provide a glimpse into the character and executive style of Obama that will only become more evident as he takes office and faces much more serious issues and battles. Barack was more than willing to insult GLBT citizens and their supporters by picking Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inaugural so he could make a point about his "inclusiveness." He's prepared to block the legal appointment of Roland Burris in order to try and burnish his ethical creds and further distance himself from Blagojevich. And he precipitously got rid of Richardson to tamp down any additional criticism he might get in connection with the Blago-Burris-Reid showdown.

Do these actions demonstrate an effective strategic and tactical grasp, or a rather cut-throat tendency to throw people under the bus? You decide.

See my previous posts on this story here, here and here.

All photos by M.E. Broderick.

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January 5, 2009 at 10:39 AM in 2009 Gubernatorial Transition, Crime, Obama Transition | Permalink


I think you're reading way too much into this. From what I know of how Richardson operates, this smacks of him getting in over his head. I suspect the pay-to-play deal we know about is only the tip of the iceberg here.

Posted by: KathyF | Jan 5, 2009 11:23:57 AM

The WaPo has more. Apparently the thing heated up about the time he was announced, which explains why the transition team didn't know all the details.


"A legal source familiar with the investigation said yesterday that FBI agents, working on the Senate's behalf and conducting a background check of Richardson for the Commerce job, conveyed to Obama's transition team the seriousness and significance of the Albuquerque grand jury probe.

The agents are said to have communicated that the governor's top aides -- and even Richardson's actions -- were under scrutiny. At least two sources familiar with the investigation said some evidence raises concern about the propriety of the Richardson administration's interactions with a donor."

Posted by: KathyF | Jan 5, 2009 11:42:03 AM

If what you say is true, doesn't it bother you that Obama's vetting team did such a crappy job? How about the effects of this late rejection on so many people here in NM who were involved in the transition and getting ready for jobs, as well as those setting up to get jobs at Commerce. How about the rotten timing's affect on Denish and future Dem prospects for the governorship?

If Richardson is in over his head as you said, then Obama should have known it and acted accordingly. And if he wanted to say the things his team is leaking to the media, he should have said them in his statement, up front.

Mark my words, the clumsy handling of the Burris and Richardson situations are just the tip of the iceberg with how Obama intends to operate. The Rick Warren stick in the eye to GLBT people is another example. Many here have woken up to that fact and I'm sure many more will as time goes on.

Posted by: barb | Jan 5, 2009 11:46:12 AM

More anonymous sources. If this is true, why did Obama say he wanted Richardson to serve his admin in the future?

Posted by: barb | Jan 5, 2009 11:50:00 AM

Richardson on CSpan now.

Posted by: qofdisks | Jan 5, 2009 11:50:07 AM

Why isn't Obama concerned about the allegations about unethical behavior on the part of Hillary?


He doesn't seem to care about the pay for play opportunities with Bill Clinton's foundation and the big donations from foreigners and bigwigs.

Lawrence Summers-one of the main architects of deregulation? No problem there. Why?

Posted by: EF | Jan 5, 2009 12:00:32 PM

No one would have been privy to the grand jury proceedings, but it sounds like the FBI uncovered something they wanted to warn the transition team about. I suspect there's more there there.

And if indeed the Obama team tossed Richardson under the bus, I can't think of anyone who deserves it more.

Posted by: KathyF | Jan 5, 2009 12:12:07 PM

Here's the real reason Richardson is getting out now!


1. Constitution Article II requires USA President to be “natural born citizen”.

2. BHO’s website admits his dad was Kenyan/British, not American, citizen when BHO was born.

3. BHO is therefore not a “natural born citizen” (irrespective of Hawaiian birth or whether he may be a 14th Amendment “citizen” of USA) — confirmed in the Senate’s own McCain qualification resolution (that both parents must be citizens of USA) co-authored by BHO.

4. Supreme Court has already docketed two upcoming conferences, 1/9/09 and 1/16/09 — between dates Congress counts electoral votes (1/8/09) and Presidential inauguration (1/20/09) — to address Berg Case and fashion relief on BHO’s eligibility to be President.

5. Since the fact of BHO’s dad being Kenyan/British not in dispute, Supreme Court rules on Summary Judgment to enjoin BHO’s inauguration as President.

6. Therefore, BHO is not inaugurated as President.

7. Vice President Elect Biden is inaugurated Acting President under the 20th Amendment to serve until new President is determined — the procedure for which determination to be set out by Congress and/or the Supreme Court so long as in conformance with the Constitution.


IF, when counting the electoral votes, Congress WERE TO find by 1/8/09 that Obama — not being an Article II “natural born citizen” (father Kenyan/British, not American) — fails to qualify as President, Biden would become the full fledged President under 3 USC 19 (free to pick his own VP such as Hillary) AND THERE WOULD BE NO NEED FOR DEFERRAL TO THE SUPREME COURT to enjoin Obama’s inauguration relegating Biden to being merely Acting President under the 20th Amendment until a new President were duly determined.

(The preferable choice, at least for the Democrats, would seem obvious.)

Posted by: Ted | Jan 5, 2009 1:01:30 PM

I can think of at least two people Obama should have thrown under the bus. Try Rick Warren and Joe Lieberman. Remember Obama picked Lieberman as his mentor in the Senate and campaigned for him in CT. Good judgment.

Posted by: roadrunner | Jan 5, 2009 1:08:08 PM

Ted, you've been listening to Rush and Hannity just a little too much. Doncha know, too much of the Kool Aid is NOT good for ya, it makes you sound very IGNORANT.

Posted by: VP | Jan 6, 2009 7:17:41 AM