Do you get the sense that the Washington political world has declared the Bill Richardson story over and done with — in the course of less than a full daily news cycle — so that it can get on with the more exciting business of Barack Obama arriving the nation’s capital? George Stephanopoulos described Richardson’s withdrawal as Commerce Secretary nominee as a “hiccup” that is “likely to be a small blip” for Obama. Some news coverage suggests that others agree.
But the Richardson story matters. Here you have a cabinet nominee, and a high-profile former rival of Obama at that, withdrawing because of a federal criminal investigation. And Obama, of course, along with his chief of staff and another top incoming White House official, has already been interviewed in the course of another federal criminal investigation. And we’re still two weeks away from the inauguration.
No one has accused them of any wrongdoing, but one more “hiccup” and, as they say, there will be a pattern. Perhaps even a “cloud” over the new administration.
On the substance of it, this afternoon I talked to Colleen Heild, the investigative reporter who, along with Mike Gallagher, broke the CDR investigation story in the Albuquerque Journal. I wanted to know what she thought the Obama vetting team could reasonably have known in the weeks leading up to the December 3 announcement of Richardson’s investigation. “We reported in August, and then in October, that there was an FBI investigation into this,” Heild told me. “Those stories didn’t specifically tie this to the Richardson administration doing anything improper, except that the state agency that let the contract was under his control.”
Still, Heild said, the case was moving forward in October and November. “I think the FBI was getting close to where they wanted to be,” Heild told me. “We’re unclear as to how many witnesses they interviewed, but I think that from what we understand, there had been subpoenas that came from the grand jury, and they were looking at a number of records, and that was going on in November.” During that time, Heild said, some figures in the case began hiring lawyers. (Richardson did so recently, according to an Associated Press report.)
Heild told me she was told yesterday by Richardson’s spokesperson that Richardson had given the Albuquerque Journal stories to the Obama transition team.
So should Team Obama have known something was up? “I’m searching my memory for anything that might have triggered the Obama people to say, ‘Is this really somebody we want to nominate?’” Heild said. “And I don’t see it in any of the coverage at the local level.”