Attorney General Eric Holder has done another big political favor for another Friend Of Barack. He, and his department, have killed the "pay for play" investigation of New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and his associates. That investigation was responsible for Richardson's withdrawal from nomination to President Barack Obama's cabinet as Commerce Secretary.
The AP story says "The decision not to pursue indictments was made by top Justice Department officials," and quotes "a person familiar with the investigation" as saying "It's over. There's nothing. It was killed in Washington." Other reports indicated the decision was made by the Attorney General himself.
These decisions are normally made by the U.S. Attorney in whose district the corresponding grand jury operates. This practice is intended to insure against most interference of Washington politics in prosecutorial decisions. The fact that this decision was made in Washington suggests knowledge that indictments were warranted, and were coming otherwise no Washington interference would be needed. Its timing suggests either that the indictments were very close to being issued, or that the Obama Administration wants to appoint Richardson to some post soon and needed to make this investigation go away.
Most of the coverage of this news has been rather cursory, providing no more information than in the AP story cited above. The one exception I have seen has been the story in our local paper, the Albuquerque Journal (subscription required). Here's part of that report:
My reaction when I read this story was two-fold:
A letter to defense lawyers from U.S. Attorney Greg Fouratt sent late Thursday said the United States "will not seek to bring charges against your clients" arising out of the New Mexico Finance Authority's award of financial work to California-based CDR Financial Products.
Fouratt went on to say, however, that the investigation revealed that CDR and its officers made substantial contributions to Richardson's political organizations while the company was seeking the work and that "pressure from the governor's office resulted in corruption of the procurement process so that CDR would be awarded such work."
The three-paragraph letter — obtained by the Journal from private attorneys in the case — said the notification "shall not preclude the United States or the grand jury from reinstituting such an investigation without notification if ... circumstances warrant ..."
. . .
The letter said, "It is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party's conduct."
Richardson spokesman Gilbert Gallegos responded late Thursday, saying, "The prosecutor's letter is wrong on the facts and appears to be nothing more than sour grapes."
- The statement by Richardson's spokesman was wrong and self-serving. I read the letter excerpt as a clear statement that wrongdoing has been found, even if indictments have not been issued. It also strongly suggests the U.S. Attorney's disagreement with Washington's interference in this case.
- That the decision not to pursue indictments "is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party's conduct" and "shall not preclude the United States or the grand jury from reinstituting such an investigation without notification if ... circumstances warrant ..." seems to be warning the Richardson group not to get too cocky, that the investigation/indictments can easily be reactivated once there is an attorney general more interested in the rule of law than political favortism. In effect, it says "This isn't over." That aspect of the U.S. Attorney's letter may be the reason for the Richardson spokesman's "sour grapes" response.
(There is another reason for thinking this issue is not finished. As has been noted elsewhere, for example here, the Securities and Exchange Commission is also probing pay-for-play cases in several states. It is not known whether these probes include one in New Mexico.)
All this still doesn't answer the questions about why this action was taken, and why now. But Bill Richardson is a former U.N. Ambassador who was reported last year as being under consideration for appointment as Secretary of State. And he has been in the news, for quite uncommon things, a couple of times lately. One was just weeks ago when a group of North Korean officials came to meet with him in Santa Fe. And at the time of this news from the Justice Department, he was leading a trade delegation in Cuba. Supposedly, neither action was taken on behalf of the White House, but Richardson is reporting to Obama next week on his Cuban trip.
It has also been suggested the investigation was killed because this scandal goes much deeper than we have known, potentially involving "significant portions of the Democrat Party." If that is so, expect more pressure to close the SEC (and other) pay-for-play investigations in the near future.
All of which is interesting, but provides no answers. And what we are left with is just another action by the politicized Obama/Holder Justice Department Chicago politics being played out in Washington, DC, and across the country.