Richardson withdraws bid to be commerce secretary

WASHINGTON (AP) – New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson on Sunday
announced that he was withdrawing his nomination to be President-elect
Barack Obama’s commerce secretary amid a grand jury investigation into
how some of his political donors won a lucrative state contract.

Richardson’s withdrawal was the first disruption of Obama’s Cabinet
process and the second “pay-to-play” investigation that has touched
Obama’s transition to the presidency. The president-elect has remained
above the fray in both the case of arrested Illinois Gov. Rod
Blagojevich and with the New Mexico case.

A federal grand jury is investigating how a California company that
contributed to Richardson’s political activities won a New Mexico state
contract worth more than $1 billion. 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.

“But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have
forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process,” Richardson
said. “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.”

Richardson said he will remain as governor and told Obama, “I am eager to serve in the future in any way he deems useful.”

The announcement came ahead of Obama’s Monday meetings with
congressional leaders on a massive economic recovery bill he wants
lawmakers to pass quickly.

Obama said he has accepted Richardson’s withdrawal, first reported by NBC News, “with deep regret.”

“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,” Obama said. “It is a measure of his willingness to put
the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the
Cabinet 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.”

A person familiar with the proceedings has told The Associated Press
that the grand jury is looking into possible “pay-to-play” dealings
between CDR Financial Products and someone in a position to push the
contract through with the state of New Mexico.
State documents show CDR was paid a total of $1.48 million in 2004 and 2005 for its work on a transportation program.
Richardson
ran against Obama in the Democratic presidential primary, but withdrew
after a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. He
later endorsed Obama in his primary campaign against Sen. Hillary
Rodham Clinton, Obama’s nominee for secretary of state.

He is one of the most prominent Hispanics in the Democratic Party,
having served in Congress and as President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to
the United Nations and energy secretary. As governor, he has kept up an
international profile with a specialty in dealing with rogue nations.
Obama also considered him to be secretary of state.

CDR and its CEO, David Rubin, have contributed at least $110,000 to
three political committees formed by Richardson, according to an AP
review of campaign finance records.

The largest donation, $75,000, was made by CDR in June 2004 – a
couple of months after the transportation financing arrangement won
state approval – to a political committee that Richardson established
before the Democratic National Convention that year.