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Bill Richardson Withdraws from Consideration for Commerce Secretary

1:35 PM, Jan 4, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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The Obama transition train just keeps on chugging down the tracks to Smoothville, huh?

Bill Richardson reportedly has withdrawn as the commerce secretary-designate in the face of a federal grand jury investigation into whether the former presidential candidate exchanged government contracts for campaign contributions.

NBC News on Sunday reported that Richardson, who is the governor of New Mexico, denies any wrongdoing but the investigation won't be finished before he has to go to Senate confirmation hearings.

Richardson denies wrongdoing, but doesn't want to delay the Commerce Department's work while he's under investigation, he said. Obama issued a statement saying he accepted Richardson's decision with "deep regret."

More details on the allegations Richardson is facing:

A person familiar with the proceedings has told The Associated Press that the grand jury is looking into possible "pay-to-play" dealings between CDR Financial Products and someone in a position to push the contract through with the state of New Mexico.

Richardson said he plans to continue in his role as governor. "I appreciate the confidence President-elect Obama has shown in me, and value our friendship and working partnership. I told him that I am eager to serve in the future in any way he deems useful. And like all Americans, I pray for his success and the success of our beloved country."

The Politico offers this assessment of the withdrawal, from which I can only conclude its writers and editors are suffering from an aggressive form of professional amnesia that omits only new stories that happen in Chicago and are damaging to Barack Obama. It's an affliction that affected much of the press corps during the campaign, and is proving resistant to treatment by reality in a post-election political environment:

Richardson's withdrawal, which had not been preceded by the sort of rumblings that often accompany such a departure, is the first false start for a presidential transition that has had an exceedingly smooth public face.

Even if one doesn't count Blagojevich's sins against Obama, surely the involvement of the names of Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett in the investigation is a blemish. If not that, perhaps Obama's clumsy handling of the scandal, for which the Politico itself has criticized him. Then there's Blago's appointment of Burris, and the predicament now facing Senate Dems, which could conceivably have been avoided had Obama insisted forcefully on a special election. And, finally, the row over his pick of Rick Warren for his invocation at inauguration. Obama should not take all the blame for every political mishap in his party during his transition period, but to say the public face has been exceedingly smooth?

Yes, smooth, like the public face of a high-school marching band without a dermatologist.