Monday, January 05, 2009

Richardson & the Feds: what do we know? Not much

marjorie says...

Now that the shock of yesterday's news that Bill Richardson isn't going to be Commerce Secretary has subsided, and now that I have finally digested the eating of my own words that the federal investigation of CDR Financial wouldn't derail his nomination, let's think about what we actually know.

First, we don't know much.

Richardson says it was his decision, but just about everyone else thinks it was Obama's.

And while Obama expresses regret, his transition team is pointing the finger at Richardson, saying he wasn't forthcoming enough about the investigation. The Richardson camp says he was very forthcoming and that everyone has known since last August about the federal investigation into CDR Financials dealings in New Mexico (the company got lucrative state contracts shortly after making two big contributions to Richardson political action committees back in 2003 and 2004).

Richardson is right; everyone has known. This leads me to believe that something changed in just the past couple of weeks.

As some speculate, maybe it's simply the result of increasing nervousness as the Obama team has to deal with the Illinois scandal--in which the governor there tried to sell Obama's senate seat. This line of reasoning says that it became untenable for the Obama team to have such close proximity to possible corruption in New Mexico.

This speculation is highly plausible, and I suspect that it's a big contributing factor for Obama not sticking it out with Richardson.

But there's also the fact that the 2008 federal grand jury has completed its work. Here is what NMI's Trip Jennings described:

...the federal grand jury asked to review evidence in the case during 2008 has been released from its duty, meaning a new grand jury empaneled this year must take up the case all over again, including witness testimony. And that could mean a drawn-out inquiry. Federal grand juries, which prosecutors use to determine if there is enough probable cause to issue indictments, are empaneled for only a year in New Mexico.
A federal grand jury is empaneled on a yearly basis, during which time it hears testimony on a wide variety of matters. Here's how Bloomberg describes the process:
To be charged with a felony, a person has the right to be indicted by a grand jury, the U.S. Constitution says. The panel of 16 to 23 people is meant to act as a buffer between prosecutors and their suspects, said James Montana, a former federal prosecutor and partner with Chicago-based law firm Vedder Price.
Grand Jury
Acting in secrecy mandated by law, grand juries review documents and hear evidence from victims, witnesses and occasionally the subjects of the investigation.
While the Justice Department will sometimes give a target notice of an investigation and invite that person to appear, neither step is required and such appearances are "extremely rare," said Montana. To indict, 12 of the grand jurors must agree there is probable cause a crime was committed.
Ok, so this gives us two possibilities, to my way of thinking:

1. We may have a long road ahead of us before we find out whether or not CDR Financial and the Richardson administration had some shady dealings going on. And this is most certainly not a given, although the big contributions by CDR Financial certainly make me raise my eyebrows. Hopefully the feds have clued in to what all the rest of us here know: there are no campaign contribution limits in New Mexico, so it's kind of hard to prove that $100,000 gets one special favors. This is a structural problem.

2. We may know pretty quick, and if this is the case it doesn't bode well for Richardson. Why would the Feds have the grand jury look into something starting back in August, and not plan to have it wrap up by the end of the year, if they know they would just have to start over again in January? If this is how it works (please enlighten me if it isn't), it's highly possible that the 2008 grand jury got what it needed to either make an indictment, or not. And if this is the case, why would the Feds let Richardson's nomination be derailed...if there's nothing there?

Well, one answer is that the Feds are the Feds, and could care less about the political fortunes of politicians. The speculation is rampant. And like everyone else, m-pyre is holding its breath.