For the past year federal officials have investigated possible criminal charges against New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and other state officers. The investigation looked into the allegation that Richardson’s administration had steered a lucrative contract to a prominent political donor in a so-called “pay to play” scenario. The investigation has concluded without charges. Early Thursday the AP bluntly reported that the case was killed in Washington:
The decision not to pursue indictments was made by top Justice Department officials, according to a person familiar with the investigation, who asked not to be identified because federal officials had not disclosed results of the probe.
“It’s over. There’s nothing. It was killed in Washington,” the person told The Associated Press.
The investigation was conducted before a grand jury by the office of the United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico over the past year, but the office isn’t talking: “A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque said he had no information about the Justice Department’s decision and couldn’t comment.”
The New York Times reports, however, that “top Justice Department officials concurred with [New Mexico United States Attorney] Mr. [Gregory] Fouratt’s decision to drop the inquiry.” The Times thus obscurely implies that the decision to bring no charges was made in New Mexico rather than Washington. The Times article adds:
Mr. Richardson’s aides have long maintained that the acting United States attorney, Gregory J. Fouratt, a Republican, went after Mr. Richardson for political reasons, effectively sabotaging his chance to serve in the cabinet. Mr. Fouratt has denied that.
Mr. 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.
In the letter [to the letter sent to grand jury witnesses], Mr. Fouratt’s office said he would not pursue criminal charges, but it added that “pressure from the governor’s office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process” and said that the letter “should not be interpreted as exoneration of any party’s conduct in that matter.”
“Mr. Richardon’s aides” of course have an axe to grind. “Lawyers for several of the witnesses” are similarly compromised. They were likely representing possible targets of the investigation. It would be in their clients’ interest to charge that the investigation was not bona fide.
The Times states: “The Associated Press first reported the news early Thursday.” But the AP reported that the investigation was killed in Washington, not in New Mexico. If it was killed in Washington, Andrew McCarthy’s comment is fully warranted:
If you’re a CIA interrogator who used harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration to obtain life-saving intelligence from terrorists, and professional line prosecutors — after laboriously scrutinizing your conduct — decided there was no criminality, Attorney General Eric [Holder] will unleash a new prosecutor to investigate the case yet again, seven years after the fact.
But if you’re a high-profile Democrat pol who helped Barack Obama get elected, the Holder Justice Department’s political appointees will reach out from Washington to kill a corruption investigation begun only last year by professional line prosecutors and a grand jury in New Mexico.
The question remains: Who killed the Richardson investigation? In light of the AP story, it’s a question that warrants an inquiry in its own right.
UPDATE: Hans von Spakovsky contributes an illuminating NRO Corner post on this question here.