From NBC's Domenico Montanaro
Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name from nomination for Commerce Secretary, citing an ongoing grand jury investigation in his home state. (See statement obtained first by NBC's Andrea Mitchell below.)
NBC's Lisa Myers reported last month: "The allegations now being investigated by a federal grand jury involve whether Richardson as governor steered state bond business to a firm whose founder made substantial contributions to Richardson's political action committee. Two former state officials involved in the bond deals told NBC News that they testified before a grand jury in Albuquerque last week. One official says prosecutors focused on whether Richardson or staff pushed to give business to CDR Financial Products. It specifically asked about what's called pay to play."
Lisa Myers on NBC's Nightly News: Donor to Richardson under investigation
This marks the first real bump in Obama's transition. Up to this point, appointments have gone almost flawlessly -- despite hand wringing from liberal interest groups that Obama's cabinet doesn't have enough of this or that.
Obama put out a statement expressing "deep regret" at Richardson's decision. He calls him "an outstanding public servant" and credits him with wanting to "put the nation first" by removing his name. He also expresses a measure of confidence in Richardson's innocence in saying that he looks "forward to future service to our country and in my administration."
Richardson put out a lengthier statement and avows his innocence: "Let me say unequivocally that I and my Administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact. But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process. Given the gravity of the economic situation the nation is facing, I could not in good conscience ask the President-elect and his Administration to delay for one day the important work that needs to be done."
Full statement from Obama:
It is with deep regret that I accept Governor Bill Richardson's decision to withdraw his name for nomination as the next Secretary of Commerce. Governor Richardson is an outstanding public servant and would have brought to the job of Commerce Secretary and our economic team great insights accumulated through an extraordinary career in federal and state office. It is a measure of his willingness to put the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the Cabinet in order to avoid any delay in filling this important economic post at this critical time. Although we must move quickly to fill the void left by Governor Richardson's decision, I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration.
Full statement from Richardson:
"For nearly three decades, I have been honored to serve my state and our nation in Congress, at the U.N., as Secretary of Energy and as governor. So when the President-elect asked me to serve as Secretary of Commerce, I felt a duty to answer the call. I felt that duty particularly because America is facing such extraordinary economic challenges. The Department of Commerce must play an important role in solving them by helping to grow the new jobs and businesses America so badly needs.
"It is also because of that sense of urgency about the work of the Commerce Department that I have asked the President-elect not to move forward with my nomination at this time. I do so with great sorrow. But a pending investigation of a company that has done business with New Mexico state government promises to extend for several weeks or, perhaps, even months.
"Let me say unequivocally that I and my Administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact. But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process.Given the gravity of the economic situation the nation is facing, I could not in good conscience ask the President-elect and his Administration to delay for one day the important work that needs to be done.
"So, for now, I will remain in the job I love, Governor of New Mexico, and will continue to work every day, with Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, to make a positive difference in the lives of New Mexicans. I believe she will be a terrific governor in the future. 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."