The cloud over Gov. Bill Richardson's political future has lifted after the federal government's decision against indictments in a pay-to-play investigation that prompted the governor to withdraw his nomination as U.S. commerce secretary this year.
SANTA FE, N.M. — The cloud over Gov. Bill Richardson’s political future has lifted after the federal government’s decision against indictments in a pay-to-play investigation that prompted the governor to withdraw his nomination as U.S. commerce secretary this year.
Political analysts said the end of the yearlong probe could revive Richardson’s chances of finding a place in President Obama’s administration. The governor’s second term expires at the end of 2010, and he can’t seek re-election.
“The cloud over his head has dissipated,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said Thursday.
Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, called the government’s decision, eight months after Richardson withdrew as the commerce nominee, a major vindication for the Democratic governor.
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“Whenever something like this happens, when you accept a position and then you withdraw … it gets suspicions up and tongues wagging that there is a lot more there than they’re talking about. This vindicates him,” Ornstein said.
The Democratic governor and former high-ranking members of his administration won’t be criminally charged in an investigation of how lucrative state bond work went to one of the governor’s large political donors, according to two people familiar with the case. The decision not to seek indictments was made by Justice Department officials in Washington, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It’s over. There’s nothing. It was killed in Washington,” one said.
A department spokesman declined to comment on the case and whether Attorney General Eric Holder played a role in deciding not to pursue charges.
The agency’s silence drew criticism from New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Harvey Yates Jr., who said Holder should provide “transparent and honest answers” about who was responsible for the decision to end the investigation without indictments.
A spokesman for Richardson, Gilbert Gallegos, said Thursday that “while the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not notified Gov. Richardson about the completion of its investigation, it appears that no action will be taken.”
Richardson took office as governor in 2003, having served as a congressman from New Mexico, a roving diplomatic troubleshooter and as President Clinton’s energy secretary and U.N. ambassador.
In withdrawing his nomination as commerce secretary in January, Richardson said the grand-jury investigation would have delayed confirmation hearings, keeping him from quickly filling the Cabinet position.
Even with no indictments in the bond-financing case, the Richardson administration continues to face pay-to-play accusations in a whistle-blower lawsuit brought in state court.