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Friday, August 28, 2009

Will White House Go All The Way? Political Players Say Appoint New US Attorney; Give Bill A Job and Get Di Named Guv; Our Complete Coverage 

Denish With Obama
Top level political power players are saying the news that Governor Richardson and his former top aides will not be indicted in connection with the CDR pay-to-play case paves the way for the White House to consolidate its political power in this key presidential swing state. There is still another investigation pending that involves the Guv, but CDR was the biggie. Republican US Attorney Greg Fouratt did not convince his Justice Department bosses to get indictments in CDR and that likely means no indictments of Richardson or his staff in the second case, say political insiders we consulted. Some of them pointed to investment adviser Marc Correra as still being on the hook, but not the Guv or his aides.

Senior Alligators consulted are also betting that the President will soon name a new NM US Attorney, toughening even further the standards for political indictments. In other words, a new deck has been shuffled and Richardson again has a high hand.

The Washington Post has the lowdown on how the no indictment day came down.

Prosecutors in New Mexico sent their findings to Justice Department headquarters in Washington, where career prosecutors concluded that an indictment was not warranted...The agreement to extend the statute of limitations on the allegations had expired Wednesday and Justice Department officials had not requested more time. That signaled, the source said, that indictments were no longer a possibility.

We worked the big story with KOB-TV's Stuart Dyson. Video here. The ABQ Journal quotes from a letter written to defense lawyers by US Attorney Fouratt. The New York Times reports:

Fouratt took the unusual steps of bringing in a new prosecutor to present evidence last fall and then empanelling a new grand jury in January, after it became clear that the first grand jury was not ready to indict, lawyers for several of the witnesses before the grand jury said.

POWER HUNGRY

Democrats have pent up demands. The year long CDR investigation thwarted the naming of a new US attorney to replace Fouratt. The power players we spoke to say that is job one--getting a new US Attorney and US Marshall in place. They then say the President and his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel can go all the way--get Richardson appointed as an envoy or to another diplomatic post. That would allow Lt. Governor Diane Denish to be named Governor. That, they think, could effectively put an end to any serious hopes the R's have of reclaiming the state's top slot in 2010. As a well-financed incumbent, Denish would be much more formidable. Her heart is skipping beats again at the prospect of an appointed governorship, or as one D.C. pundit called us now, "The Land of Second Chances." The Light Guv treaded cautiously:

Assuming news reports are accurate this is good news for the people of New Mexico. But the fact remains that public confidence has been eroded by the numerous investigations into possible wrongdoings by other government officials. We need strong ethics reform to make state government more open and accountable and I will continue to lead that fight.

The reasoning on Denish also holds that with her at the helm the state will be protected for the President's re-election in 2012. Having a sitting Governor with their own organization in place to supplement that of Obama's would deliver a one-two punch. Also, the critical task of redrawing the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts will take place in the 2011 legislative session. A Democratic governor is seen as essential to continuing the party's grip on power and keeping out of harm's way the all Dem US House delegation.

Denish was crestfallen in January when Richardson's nomination as Obama's Commerce Secretary fell through because of the CDR case. We jested then that she was already measuring the curtains on the Fourth Floor of the Roundhouse, but she won't get ahead of herself this time.

Still, veteran Dems who know the game want the White House to strike on all fronts--or as they say in the Godfather--"to settle all family business."

THE COMEBACK

Is the above scenario nearing reality? Richardson has met with the North Koreans in Santa Fe recently and when the no indictment news broke, he was conveniently on a trade mission to Cuba about which he will brief the White House. One jokester said Bill was in Cuba this week so if he did get indicted he wouldn't have to come back to face the music. But Bill is coming back. How far back is the issue and, we might add, how far from New Mexico?

Initial speculation included Richardson as an envoy to Central American nations, with an eye toward making him America's first ambassador to Cuba since the 1950's. That could happen if Obama normalizes relations with the island nation. It's not that long of a shot and Richardson's experience with the island nation and his Hispanic background puts it in the realm of the realistic.

Whatever the possibilities, we know that after nearly seven years as Governor, Richardson wants a one-way ticket out of here. His trademark throughout his political career has been his persistence. More often than not he gets what he wants because he works his tail off for it. He swallowed a bitter dose of medicine with this drawn-out grand jury probe. He fretted behind the scenes, but rarely in public, providing a lesson to aspiring politicos on both sides of the aisle on how to handle dark times and wait for the light to shine again.

LIGHT GUV

If Bill goes and Denish is in, we are back in the Light Guv biz. She would get to appoint a lieutenant governor to replace her in the position. Very early speculation puts Lawrence Rael, head of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, who is one of many Dems currently seeking the 2010Light Guv nomination, at the top of the possible picks for Di.

If Denish backs into the Governor's chair via appointment, she could be expected to pick a #2 who she wants to run with her in the November 2010 election, not a place holder. Why? Because leaders lead, not allow dogfights to continue.

A BLOW TO THE R'S
Yates
The no indictment news hit NM Republicans like a medicine ball to the chest. They tried to recover their breath by questioning whether the indictments were dismissed for political reasons. GOP Chair Harvey Yates, Jr.:

Who is responsible for the decision not to proceed with these indictments? Was this decision made contrary to the advice of experienced, nonpolitical, career prosecutors and the FBI? If so, what was the justification for ignoring the advice...Did Obama’s political appointees dispute the results of the FBI investigation? Lastly, what is the basis for overturning these decisions in a case of public corruption involving high-level Democrat politicians?

But the R's argument ran hollow and was not without irony. The US attorney scandal that engulfed NM politics was authored by the Bush administration when it controlled Justice. State Dems came with this retort:

..Yates must have a short memory. It was Heather Wilson and the Bush White House that politicized the Department of Justice. It was Karl Rove who testified under oath that Heather Wilson pushed for the firing of David Iglesias because he wasn't pursuing baseless prosecutions against Democrats...The US Attorney's office sent the case to Justice, as is customary in high profile cases--without any recommendation--despite a year of investigations, countless subpoenas, and multiple grand juries...This is a total vindication of Governor Richardson and his senior advisors

Even today, a federal grand jury is investigating the scandal and perhaps the R's best hope for the Guv's race--former ABQ GOP Congresswoman Heather Wilson--remains under its shadow. Also, ex-GOP Senator Domenici was slapped on the wrist by the Senate Ethics Committee for his role in the scandal.

Former Dem ABQ Mayor and liberal standard-bearer Jim Baca also piled on. He told us the year long investigation was a fishing expedition--a giant waste of time and money and politically motivated. "Who will tell the taxpayers?" He poked.

CAMPAIGN IMPACT

Martinez
GOP Guv candidate and Dona Ana County District Attorney Susana Martinez may have had the most to lose with the no indictment development. She is making corruption a centerpiece of her campaign, but the news showed how tenuous a platform that can be. Still, she tried gamely to spin the news:

It is a sad and disappointing day when public officials celebrate the fact that they will not be criminally charged for an alleged pay-to-play scheme...Whether it's news about the FBI investigation into the Richardson/Denish Administration, or recent news concerning the indictment of the former secretary of state, it all speaks to the same issue: corruption is running rampant in Santa Fe...

Who Susana observed celebrating is open to question. Here's what Bill's office said:

While the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not notified Governor Richardson about the completion of its investigation, it appears that no action will be taken as a result of the year-long inquiry.

Governor Richardson has known all along that neither he nor any staff members committed any transgressions during their successful fundraising back in 2004. The U.S. Attorney’s thorough and lengthy investigation has apparently determined the same thing – that no indiscretions occurred.

Although patience was difficult while Governor Richardson and his administration were being falsely accused and were the subject of rumors and speculation through the news media, Governor Richardson chose to remain silent and let the justice system run its course. Governor Richardson is gratified that this year-long investigation has ended with the vindication of his administration.

Vindication? Well, that may be a stretch. But R's like Martinez are on notice. They can keep the ethics arrow in their sling, but they will need supplemental firepower.

THE BIG PICTURE


Agree or disagree, having such a large piece of the legal cloud lifting from over the Guv can't hurt our state's standing around the nation. We were threatening to become the current corruption capital. We still have our share of unresolved cases, but an indictment of a sitting governor could hurt this small state's economic development in unknown ways.

PAY TO PLAY

The excess of the Great Bull Market and Richardson's insatiable appetite for funds to run his presidential campaign combined to form a perfect storm of financial hedonism. But the rules were more relaxed for everyone when the gravy was flowing; it wasn't until it stopped flowing that pay-to-play was looked at more rigorously.

The definition of pay-to-play is a moving target, depending on who is running the FBI and Justice Department. Overhanging it is the entire political contribution system that could be said to border on legalized bribery. It seems just about all legislative and agency decisions could be linked to a campaign donor. Frankly, pay-to-play is everywhere, a systemic problem that some think only a public campaign finance system would resolve.

EVEN MORE

The AP's Barrey Massey comes with analysis on the big story. Pollster and analyst Brian Sanderoff interviewed with KOAT-TV. "Great news for the Governor," he said, and speculated that Richardson could be in line for a non-cabinet level position before his Guv term runs out.

SOME FUN STUFF

From Richard Brown in Carlsbad:

Do you think the fact that Hamid Karzai was well in front of the field in his race for the Afghanistan presidency but now faces a runoff with Abdullah Abdullah has gotten Marty's attention in his bid to return the Albuquerquistan city hall?

Richard, "Run-off" in any language is a dirty word for Chavez. Anyone using it around him has to clean up litter on the streets on weekends.

The campaign of Republican mayor hopeful RJ Berry says our recent blog item putting RJ outside of Rep. Heinrich's Saturday health care town hall was in error and that RJ was not working the crowd. But at a meeting of Republican women that same day a staffer for Berry told the group RJ was indeed working the line at the town hall. That's where we got our info. In any event, we chided ABQ GOP Congressional candidate Jon Barela for missing the opportunity. Now we'll do the same with RJ--unless the duo had colds and were seeking health care.

This is the home of New Mexico politics. E-mail your news and comments--anonymously if you wish.


(c)NM POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN 2009
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