It didn’t take long for Barack Obama to have his first brush with scandal in his administration. In fact, he managed to do that before taking the oath of office. Bill Richardson withdrew his nomination as Commerce Secretary after a federal investigation into pay-for-play in New Mexico went public last month:
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, tapped in December by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as secretary of Commerce, has withdrawn his name for the position, citing a pending investigation into a company that has done business with his state.
“Let me say unequivocally that I and my Administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact,” he said Sunday in a report by NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell. “But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process.”
He said he plans to continue in his role as governor. “I appreciate the confidence President-elect Obama has shown in me, and value our friendship and working partnership. I told him that I am eager to serve in the future in any way he deems useful. And like all Americans, I pray for his success and the success of our beloved country.”
Thus far, the Obama transition looks pretty shaky. Rahm Emanuel may or may not have connections to the unfolding scandal in Illinois, and now Richardson won’t even bother with a confirmation hearing. The federal grand jury wants to know whether Richardson traded state government contracts for campaign contributions, and Richardson apparently doesn’t feel comfortable answering questions on the record about the allegations while the grand jury does its job. That Richardson would accept the nomination and then withdraw under these circumstances says something about how uncomfortable this scandal will get.
Richardson says he will remain Governor despite the investigation. We’ll see how long that statement will remain in effect. For now, however, one has to wonder what kind of vetting the Obama transition team has done with the marquee selections, and how badly they’ll bungle the rest.