Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Richardson Pull-out Disappoints One Journo

I'm bummed that Governor Bill Richardson decided (or had it decided for him) to withdraw his planned nomination for Secretary of Commerce. That move is being chalked up to an ongoing federal investigation into an alleged pay-to-play scheme in New Mexico. I suspect the echoes of Blagojevich play a role here.

However, my disappointment is due more to the fact that the Senate will be denied the opportunity to dig into some other issues, including Richardson's alleged role as Energy Secretary in leaks about Wen Ho Lee, the nuclear scientist accused of being a spy for China, held in jail for a year or so, and then released in a plea deal that fell far short of the original charges. The federal judge handling the criminal case apologized to Lee.

When I asked President Clinton about the case, he said he "always had reservations" about how Lee's prosecution was being handled. I later grilled Joe Lockhart about why the president allowed the man to spend a year in jail but never raised a hand, even though Mr. Clinton strongly suspected the case was being mishandled from the outset. Some of these exchanges were included in a PBS documentary.

Some Asian-Americans have never forgiven Richardson for his alleged role. They publicly opposed Richardson's nomination over what they called the scapegoating of Lee. That opposition got virtually no press coverage, though it was the only Obama nomination I know of that triggered a race-based outcry. You can see more about the opposition here and here. Richardson's critics have also posted this video from 60 Minutes (and other news reports) of the former Energy Secretary asserting that he tried to safeguard the scientist's reputation.

I understand that in a civil suit Lee brought against the government for alleged privacy violations, Richardson denied leaking Lee's identity to the press.

Anyway, too bad some of this couldn't have been probed a bit further. Maybe Richardson will be invited back into the administration at some future point and these issues will be put back on the table.