Before New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson was even offered the position of Secretary of Commerce in President Elect Brack Obama's new cabinet, some serious vetting occurred. Or did it?
Teams for both Richardson and Obama have been on the defensive lately as questions arise about Gov. Richardson's involvement with a Grand Jury investigation into governmental contracts given to a political donor. Obama and Richardson have been close friends and political allies since Richardson threw his support behind the President Elect back in March of 2008. Obama was said to have accepted the withdrawal of Richardson's name as a contender for the position of Secretary of Commerce with "great regret".
Weeks before the President-Elect selected Richardson as the heir apparent for the Secretary of Commerce seat, the Governor was subjected to a vetting by a small group of volunteers working for Obama, among them lawyers and professionals with ethics, tax and investigative expertise. Unfortunately, the team seemed to underestimate the gravity of the pending Grand Jury investigation focused on Richardson's office. Although the investigation had been widely reported since August of 2008, Richardson seemed very confident in the fact that it would not hinder his Senate confirmation.
"This was out there and he told them" a senior Richardson aide told the Washington Post, "I feel that they just missed the boat on it. The FBI or the campaign or something. I don't think it's fair that this is being portrayed as though he is holding anything back."
But sources within the transition team and the Justice Department have indicated that Richardson down played down the significance of the probe and that his disclosures were incomplete. It was not until the FBI began a background check in early December that the seriousness of the issue became obvious.
Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, defended the vetting process and said, "The totality of our Cabinet picks, it's impressive, and I think our vetters have done a good job."
Richardson refused to comment on the ongoing investigations, saying only, "As you might expect, I'm disappointed in this turn of events. There were a lot of ways in which I thought I would help this country in a time of crisis. Sometimes your own dreams and plans must take a back seat to what is best for the country."