Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
December 18, 2008

You have to give him credit for originality.

Most politicians, when they know they’re going to get peppered with questions about something controversial — say, a grand jury investigation — have a well-rehearsed statement to the tune of, “You guys know I can’t talk about grand jury proceedings, which are secret. I don’t want to say anything that might be seen as impeding an investigation, though I’m confident that no wrongdoing was done by anyone in this administration.” It’s simple, easy, and even though it’s pretty lame, it gets the job done.

But that’s not the route that Gov. Bill Richardson took at a news conference this week. He was able to dodge questions about the grand jury looking into a possible pay-for-play regarding a Beverly Hills, Calif., financial firm that was awarded nearly $1.5 million in work for the state around the same time the firm was making huge contributions to Richardson’s political action committees.

As has been well reported by myself and others, at a news conference about a new solar energy production facility in Belen, Richardson took a few questions about the new project. Then he announced the news conference was over and made a beeline for the door.

I was on the wrong end of the big marble table in the Governor’s Cabinet Room, so I was hoping some of my colleagues would be able to block the governor’s retreat for a few seconds so I could reach him. But Richardson went through them like a knife through hot butter, not acknowledging the questions. He ignored questions about the investigation shouted at him and, according to reporters near him at the time, never made eye contact.

As a former crime reporter, I knew better than to expect any answers about the grand jury proceeding and what he might have said or didn’t say to investigators. The question I had for Richardson — who is President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of commerce — was whether he had discussed the matter with Obama before, during or after the vetting process. I’m especially curious whether Obama has contacted him about the grand jury since the news broke in the national media.

We might have to wait until the Senate confirmation hearings to get those answers.

No, Richardson didn’t actually invoke the Fifth Amendment, but he clearly exercised his right to remain silent.

National reaction: You can’t really call it a media feeding frenzy at this point, but the national political chattering class has begun paying attention to Richardson’s grand jury.
Consider this item in MSNBC’s First Read blog on Tuesday. Under the headline “Did Obama’s vetters know this?” the blog asks, “Is Bill Richardson headed for a tougher-than-expected confirmation hearing?”

After stating the general facts of the case, First Read continues, “Does the (Illinois Gov. Rod) Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal give this news more scrutiny? The it’s-just-politics defense was probably enough to keep Senate vetters from digging too deep on this BB (Before Blagojevich). But what about now? Also, a retired Chinese-American businessman from San Francisco has started a group that resurrects the entire Wen Ho Lee controversy (by alleging Richardson denied Lee his due-process rights after terminating his employment). The group claims more than 9,000 signatures against Richardson’s appointment. Bottom line for those looking for the one Obama cabinet pick who will face confirmation trouble: You may want to move your chips off of Holder and on to Richardson.”

The right-wing National Review was even harsher, asking, “Could President-elect Obama soon have to look for a new commerce secretary?”

Concluded the National Review, “Maybe this FBI investigation will go nowhere. But in a post-Blagojevich environment, the Obama administration is probably going to be extra wary of associating with government officials under criminal investigation.”

Pull up your cyber socks: Albuquerque Mayor Marty Chávez’s office sent out this news release not once, but twice this week. It’s about a news conference where Chávez was “to Unveil His Public Safety Legislative Package Regarding Identify Theft, Cyber-Stocking, Auto Theft and Sexual Predators.”

I’m not sure what cyber stockings are. Maybe cyber stalkers will have to wear them.

State musicians at inauguration: The best party in the world Jan. 20 will be Obama’s inauguration in Washington, D.C. And some New Mexico musicians have been tapped to play there.

The Española Valley High School Mariachi Sol Del Valle has been invited to march in the inauguration. All participants in the parade are responsible for paying for their own lodging and transportation to and from the nation’s capital, so the mariachi band needs to raise some cash. Anyone interested in helping should contact Alfonso Trujillo, the band and mariachi teacher at Española Valley High School, 505-753-7357.

Playing at the American Indian Inaugural Ball at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 20, will be Gary Farmer — actor, Santa Fe art gallery owner and blues harmonica demon — as well as Levi & The Plateros, a Native American Blues band from Tohajiilee, N.M.

I have a feeling there might be more announcements of New Mexico bands going to the D.C. shindig. Watch this space.

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