VOLUME 28 NO. 3 | JANUARY 10 - JANUARY 16, 2009

Richardson declines Obama nomination amid controversy

Last updated 1-8-09 at 1:16 p.m.
Gov. 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 Jan. 4.
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 with perfection.”

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 nomination.

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.

“From 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 Hispanic.

When Obama won, Richardson’s name was in the hopper as a possible vice president, then as secretary of state. However, neither happened.

But eventually Obama picked him for the commerce job, which includes selling America to the international business community.

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. ... We’re 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 to Congress.

The aftermath

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.

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