Richardson declines Obama nomination amid controversy
Last updated 1-8-09 at 1:16 p.m.
Richardson is shown speaking to Service Employees International
Union (SEIU) members in 2007. Richardson took himself out of
the nomination for Commerce Secretary of the United States on
Photo provided by SEIU
By Ben Feller
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — When he ran for president, Bill Richardson
touted more than an adventurous style and impressive
resume. He was the guy who embraced flaws as a strength, the one
who said the American people “don’t want blow-dried candidates
On the other hand, a federal grand jury investigation
into what could be a significant flaw has led New
Mexico’s governor to a tough decision to leave
the national political stage — at least for now.
Richardson, on Jan. 4, scrapped his nomination to
be Barack Obama’s commerce secretary.
A federal grand jury is looking into how a California
firm that contributed to Richardson’s political activities
won a lucrative state government contract.
Obama drew controversy from Asian American communities
when he announced Richardson as his nominee for commerce
secretary. Richardson and the U.S. Department of
Energy named scientist Wen Ho Lee as a spy for Taiwan
in 1999. Lee eventually was only charged for one
of his 59 indictment charges. Asian Americans questioned
Richardson’s character and, in turn, the soundness of Obama’s
Richardson, a former U.S. diplomat, sounded diplomatic
in announcing his decision to withdraw. He said he
has done nothing wrong but figured a dragged-out
confirmation could slow down Obama’s
work. Richardson spoke with pride about sticking
with his job as governor, and told Obama that he’s still eager
to serve down later on down the line.
“The governor is confident that he will be cleared,” said
Richardson’s spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos.
At 61, Richardson has been described as a blend of
East Coast establishment and Western individualism
with a dash of Third World acumen. He combines a competitiveness
and political savvy with a down-to-earth style that often disarms
adversaries, associates say. They are traits that have served him
well as a congressman, U.N. ambassador, energy secretary, and governor.
“His personality gets him in the door,” David Goldwyn,
an associate of Richardson’s at the United Nations, once said.
there, he’s got to deliver the message, he’s got to
be persuasive, and he’s got to secure the objective. That’s
where the other part of his personality comes in — his relentlessness.”
His endorsement of Obama stunned Hillary Rodham Clinton’s
campaign. His bilingual, bicultural Hispanic background
enabled him to campaign successfully for Obama among fellow Hispanics.
However, he also lamented during his own presidential bid, however,
that because of his surname, many people didn’t think he was
When Obama won, Richardson’s name was in the hopper as a possible
vice president, then as secretary of state. However,
But eventually Obama picked him for the commerce
job, which includes selling America to the international
It was a cheery day, just over a month ago, when
Obama announced Richardson’s nomination at a news conference.
When a reporter asked the clean-shaven Richardson
what had become of his beard, Obama insisted on answering. “I
thought that whole western rugged look was really working for him.
deeply disappointed with the loss of the beard,” Obama joked.
By Jan. 4, the tone had changed markedly. This time,
Obama expressed deep regret, and it was real. Richardson
had stepped aside.
Putting aside the setback, Obama said: “It is a measure of
his willingness to put the nation first.”(end)
Associated Press writers Deborah Baker, H. Josef Hebert, Nedra
Pickler, and Pauline Arrillaga contributed to this story. Northwest
Asian Weekly editor Stacy Nguyen also contributed.
The Wen Ho Lee incident
Wen Ho Lee was a Chinese American scientist who worked for the University
of California at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
A federal grand jury indicted him of stealing
secrets about U.S. nuclear arsenal for the Republic
of China (Taiwan) in December 1999. After federal investigators were
unable to prove these initial accusations, the government conducted
a separate investigation and was ultimately only able to charge Lee
with improper handling of restricted data, one of the original 59
indictment counts, to which he pleaded guilty as part of a plea settlement.
Lee’s Link to Gov. Richardson
Lee was publicly named by United States Department of Energy officials,
including then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, as a suspect in
the theft of classified documents. Richardson was criticized by the
Senate for his handling of the espionage inquiry by not testifying
in front of Congress sooner. Richardson justified his response by
saying that he was waiting to uncover more information before speaking
In June 2006, Lee received $1.6 million from the federal government
and five media organizations as part of a settlement of a civil suit
he had filed against them for leaking his name to the press before
any formal charges had been filed against him. Federal judge James
A. Parker eventually apologized to Lee for the government misconduct
of which he had been the victim.