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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Guv Is Mum; No Comment on Grand Jury Probe Reports; An Early Stage Feeding Frenzy? Lawyers On Board; Commerce Post At Stake; What's Next? 

Bill's Lawyer
What should be days of celebration for Big Bill are turning as somber as the latest economic statistics. There was none of the usual joking or joshing from the Governor when he met with reporters at the Roundhouse Tuesday for an economic announcement. Neither was there any comment on the story that is draining the holiday cheer from his administration and casting a pall over his nomination to become the nation's next Secretary of Commerce. Reporters shouted two questions the Guv ignored. From our long training in the school of hard political knocks, we recall that's how feeding frenzies often begin.

Legal and journalism experts were not about to buy the argument that Monday's sudden national press coverage of a federal grand jury investigation into an alleged pay to play scheme that has encircled the Governor's office just kind of happened. People often leak news and do so at strategic times. Was this a planned leak and was it a prelude to indictments? That's the $64,000 question which has political consequences as far reaching as they are obvious.

For former members of the Governor's inner circle and the Governor himself, it has been a time to lawyer up. A reliable insider reports that top NM criminal defense attorneys have been retained. They report ABQ's Peter Schoenburg is working for Big Bill; former Guv Chief of Staff, David Contarino is said to have legal representation from the ABQ law firm of Sheehan, Sheehan and Stelzner. The ABQ Journal previously reported that David Harris, head of the NM Finance Authority in 2004, and now a top administrator at the University of New Mexico, has retained Paul Kennedy, a top criminal defense attorney who also happens to be a Republican. Lawyer Schoenburg represented former ABQ Mayor Ken Schultz in the ABQ Metro Court corruption case.

MORE DETAILS AND ANALYSIS

Bloomberg news reports: The grand jury is reported to be looking into Beverly Hills, Calif.-based CDR Financial Products Inc., which received almost $1.5 million in fees from the New Mexico Finance Authority in 2004 after donating $100,000 to Richardson’s efforts to register Hispanic and American Indian voters and pay for expenses at the Democratic National Convention in 2004.

The WaPo chimed in: A federal grand jury in Albuquerque was hearing testimony even as U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was introducing Richardson as his choice for commerce secretary Dec. 3. The grand jury was set Tuesday to hear testimony from officials at Richardson's political action committees and J.P. Morgan bankers, the Post said.

Prominent political consultant Amanda Cooper directed Moving America Forward, one of Richardson's political action committees. She recently managed the successful US Senate campaign of her stepfather, Senator-elect Tom Udall. She also served as deputy campaign manager for Big Bill's prez campaign.

Because of the recent US Attorney scandal the Republican-controlled Justice Department has had its credibility damaged in New Mexico. But the successful prosecution of the Metro Court case, involving prominent Democrat Manny Aragon, restored some of the department's luster. It goes without saying that any case that touches upon a Governor's office is going to have to pass the highest of bars.

And the timing. There is just over a month to go before Obama takes over and a new US attorney general and new US attorneys begin to get hired. But if an investigation is ongoing and going somewhere, will the current NM US Attorney Greg Fouratt stay on to continue? And will this investigation be a big deal at Bill's Senate confirmation hearings? Will national press coverage intensify and broaden over Bill's fundraising? And how about Obama naming another prominent Hispanic to the cabinet--Colorado Senator Ken Salazar to Interior? If something happens to Bill, there will still be a Hispanic in the cabinet. Is that an Obama hedge?

No, this is not the stuff of Christmas cheer. If on Tuesday our Governor had chosen to answer reporters shouted questions, you might have heard him say: "Bah, Humbug!"

A COINCIDENCE, REALLY

The conspiracy theorists are not going to like this. The state environment department says the timing of its action seeking multimillion dollar fines from Marathon Oil of Houston had nothing to do with a spat between NM Oil and Gas Association President Bob Gallagher and Governor Big Bill. Gallagher's e-mail slamming Bill about a recent meeting they had broke last Thursday. (You can read it by scrolling down.) As we blogged yesterday, the fines against Marathon for air quality violations came Friday. Purely coincidence says the office of state environment chief Ron Curry:

Marathon was given clear deadlines on this case and was not surprised when we filed on Friday. (Our tolling agreement with them expired on Monday the 15th, so we had to act or risk losing the ability to enforce against the violations.) This shows the theory in your blog Tuesday doesn't add up.

A conspiracy theory that doesn't add up? We are getting tired of those. Where are the Black Helicopters when you need them?

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(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2008
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