Commentary Magazine


Strike One

Bill Richardson today withdrew from consideration as Commerce Secretary in light of the widening pay-to-play investigation in New Mexico. It seems there are “just too many questions.” Hmm.  One has to wonder what both he and the President-elect were thinking. The New Mexico probe was always going to be revealed in the vetting process. So the question remains: did Richardson hide the ball or did President-elect Obama and his team not recognize the importance of the issue? (Both sides are finger-pointing.) Even if Richardson wasn’t candid, it is not as if the investigation was secret — as this report confirms:

The Richardson withdrawal, first reported Sunday afternoon by NBC News, raises questions about the thoroughness of the Obama team’s vetting process, which had been touted as one of the most stringent ever. Stories about the investigation of the CDR contract and of the donations by David Rubin — the president of CDR and a major Democratic contributor — to the Richardson-linked political action committees have appeared in news reports at least since August.

It is the Obama team’s first significant misstep (well, aside from directing a series of conversations with the known-to-be under-investiagtion Blago and not imploring fellow Democrats in Illinois to pass a bill for a special Senate election). With the advent of this incident and of Blago-gate, it is fair to ask whether the Chicago crowd isn’t too relaxed about the appearance of corruption. Have they gotten so used to the the stench of impropriety and the possibility of federal investigation that the alarm bells no longer sound? The Obama players are from Chicago, but they’re not in Chicago any longer.

The confluence of these two pay-to-play scandals isn’t being missed. Andrew Malcolm writes:

Unspoken by both Obama and Richardson today was the political reality that the Democrat-controlled Senate, which would have to confirm Democrat Richardson for the new Democratic president, is already in a mortifying fight with Illinois’ Democrat Gov. Rod Blagojevich over a similar federal “pay-to-play” probe of his operations, including the alleged auction of his nomination to fill Obama’s now vacant U.S. Senate seat with another Democrat.

There will be future incidents testing whether the Obama team has learned its lesson about insufficient scrutiny. Embattled Rep. Charlie Rangel springs to mind. We’ll know progress has been made when we see the White House pressuring Congress for his removal from the Ways and Means Chair, and not scrambling to keep up with the latest investigation.

For now, the Obama transition crew has at least learned the second lesson of corruption scandals: throw the miscreants overboard fast. The first, of course, is don’t associate with them to begin with.