Bill Richardson has withdrawn himself from consideration for the Commerce Secretary job, particularly because of a grand jury investigation into a possible pay-to-play scheme in New Mexico state government.
A federal grand jury is investigating how a California company that contributed to Richardson's political activities won a New Mexico transportation contract worth more than $1 million. Richardson said in a statement issued by the Obama transition office that the investigation could take weeks or months but expressed confidence it will show he and his administration acted properly.
A senior Obama adviser said that when Richardson was nominated, he gave assurances that he would come out fine in the investigation and the president-elect had no reason to doubt it. But as the grand jury continued to pursue the case, it became clear that confirmation hearings would have to be delayed for six weeks or even longer until the investigation was complete, said the adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity about the discussions because they were private.
I find it very surprising that this transition team obsessed with vetting their appointees, armed with a massive application that's something like 70 pages long looking into all aspects of the public and private lives of those appointees, would go simply on Richardson's word that nothing was untoward in the investigation and that it would be wrapped up within weeks. Not to convict Richardson before the trial, but what corruption investigation fizzles like that? The probe was in a highly active stage at the time. It's simply not credible to think it would be over quickly, no matter what Richardson did or didn't do. He's stepping aside to avoid a delay that should have been fairly obvious at the time. I'm shocked that Obama's team would just let that go, and it speaks to a flaw in their process, where celebrity or the "team of rivals" approach trumps sound decision-making.
Steve Clemons has some thoughts on a replacement.
I think that the Obama team needs someone who understands the economy and the vital need to reinvest in high wage job growth creation, who understands the importance of redesigning America's domestic social contract between labor, firms, capital and government, and who is familiar with business -- and liked by labor.
There are very few who fit that bill, and Leo Hindery -- who was senior economic advisor to the John Edwards campaign and then was an economic advisor to the Obama campaign as well and authored the interesting book It Takes a CEO -- is a real stand out who the Obama team should consider for Commerce.
Don't know a whole lot about him.
UPDATE... The transition is playing the blame game:
Sources tell ABC News that Obama transition officials "feel that before he was formally offered the job of commerce secretary, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was not forthcoming with them about the federal investigation that is looking into whether the governor steered a state contract towards a major financial contributor."
"Once the investigation became more widely known through national media reports last month... the Obama Transition Team realized the FBI would not be able to give Richardson a clean political bill of health before the new administration is ready to send his nomination up to the Senate for confirmation."
That's not Richardson's fault, that's the fault of the transition for taking Richardson at his word and not exploring the matter more fully. A politician is going to put him or herself in the best light. Major fail by the transition here.