AT THEIR BEST, POLITICAL APPOINTMENTS are a function of accomplishment, expertise, or judgment.
At their worst, they are the consolation prize of cronyism. With Bill
Richardson’s appointment as Secretary of Commerce, President-elect
Obama veered sharply toward the latter. Although he has little experience in
the private sector, Richardson will helm the department most responsible for
U.S. business during the greatest economic downturn in seven decades.
of Bill Richardson’s appointment as Secretary of Commerce this week, like their
coverage of the presidential election, has focused on style over substance.
Richardson wanted to be Secretary of State. Was he galled by being passed over?
Would Hispanics recoil? One reporter even asked why Richardson shaved his
beard. None of the coverage has delved into the substance of Richardson’s
career. The new Commerce Secretary is a man whose judgment once led him to negotiate
the ceasefire that catapulted the Taliban into power in Afghanistan and perhaps
to perjure himself in the Monica Lewinsky case. His accomplishments include
presiding over one of the most egregious thefts of American nuclear secrets in
history, for which he was repeatedly called upon to resign his last cabinet appointment.
Even leftist Democrat Robert Byrd refused to support him in any future confirmation
hearing. Richardson currently supports adopting a strengthened Kyoto Treaty but opposes
a secret ballot for union elections. He has apparently fibbed about being
threatened by Osama bin Laden, hints at a government cover-up of contact with
UFOs and extra-terrestrials, and he has compiled a record of self-pity that
makes Charlie Brown look phlegmatic.
criteria led Obama to name Richardson Secretary of Commerce, it was not
familiarity with the private sector. The
Washington Post reported Wednesday, “Richardson, who was one of Obama's
rivals for the Democratic nomination, has spent almost his entire career in
prominent government roles.”
Like his political benefactors, the Clintons and Obama, Richardson has no
experience in wealth creation. Worse, the 61-year-old New Mexican is an ally of
two economy-crippling forces: labor and environmentalism.
A Man with a Plan
If leftists have little to cheer in Obama’s war cabinet, they are taking solace with Richardson. Already, The Huffington Post has featured the ominous-sounding headline, “Environmentalists Thrilled About Richardson as Commerce Secretary,” and Michelle Kraus of HuffPo has thanked Obama for his “shrewd insight” in the choice. They have reason to crow. Richardson has an 82 percent League of Conservation Voters (LCV) lifetime voting record, and the distaste for fossil fuels to match. The Washington Post reported that candidate Richardson called for the American people to “sacrifice to cut oil imports from 65 percent of fossil fuel use to 10 percent in 15 years.” Blocking new sources of energy, he told Chris Wallace, “I think the ANWR argument is ridiculous,” and he pledged before the LCV that he would oppose drilling in the continental shelf. (He also promised to lean on “fishing and transportation interests” to accept the Green agenda as “their own long-term interest.”) He vowed to “mandate” higher fuel efficiency standards and greater use of biofuels by automakers. Will he convince President Obama to make this his price for a Big Three bailout?
Damaging as it would be, it may be the least expensive of his proposals. “A Stronger Kyoto Treaty”
In 2007, presidential hopeful Richardson told the Asia Society, “I would advocate, immediately upon becoming President, reconvening the Kyoto nations, scrapping the treaty and bringing forth a stronger one because we’ve lost six years.” Tony Blair’s socialist government found European nations would see their electric bills increase 26 percent, hundreds of thousands of lost jobs, and an overall economic contraction of 1-3 percent of GDP. Americans could expect to lose 1.1 million jobs and $338 billion annually for several years – and this for complying with the weaker Kyoto. A stronger version, in this economy, would likely trigger a second Great Depression.
As during the last Great Depression, Richardson may contract trade in the midst of an economic downturn. Although he supported NAFTA and has discussed broadening trade, he made disturbing proposals on the campaign trail. He told the AFL-CIO in 2007:
We should never have another trade agreement unless it enforces labor protection, environmental standards and job safety. What we need to do is say that from now on, America will adhere to all international labor standards in any trade agreement – no child labor, no slave labor, freedom of association, collective bargaining – that is critically important – making sure that no wage disparity exists.
Implementing such criteria would effectively bar any free trade agreement with any nation poorer than the United States. Richardson has proven his fidelity to the union party line before. He boasted:
One of my first actions as Governor was to reinstate collective bargaining for public employees, including Fair Share. We also secured the first public works labor agreement in New Mexico history. And we made our prevailing wage a union wage.”
He also supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which would deny workers the right to cast secret ballots when deciding whether to form a union. The EFCA’s “card check” system opens the door to worker disenfranchisement and union intimidation such that George McGovern opposes the bill.
Yet Richardson has a history of delivering for labor; his AFL-CIO lifetime voting record is 88 percent.
His bilingual acceptance speech this week may signal yet another change to our nation’s workforce.
If his plans for the future are distasteful, so are reassurances based on his judgment or experience. In his public career, Richardson won a trifecta of fecklessness, limping between scandals on the international, domestic, and bureaucratic fronts.
The Taliban’s Savior
For all the damage new environmental or economic restrictions could do, Bill Richardson’s most damaging legacy has been his contribution to 9/11. Had he not intervened, the Taliban may have been wiped out three years earlier.
As David Horowitz and I noted in our book, Party of Defeat, “In 1998, [Bill
Clinton] dispatched UN ambassador Bill Richardson to Afghanistan to impose an
arms embargo on the friendly forces of the Northern Alliance, the effect of
which was to help the Taliban” (p. 45). In April 1998, Richardson convinced the
Northern Alliance and the Taliban, then locked in a civil war, not only to lay
down arms and impose an arms embargo. Congressman Dana Rohrbacher set the scene:
“I cannot stress this more forcefully: it was a pivotal moment. The Taliban
could easily have been defeated…UN Ambassador Bill Richardson arrived on the
scene to convince the anti-Taliban forces to stand back, and we thus saved this
fanatical, anti-Western regime from being destroyed and being defeated.” Both
sides agreed, and Richardson congratulated himself on “a good day’s work” – a bit
prematurely. He wrote in utter shock that he “quickly learned that the Taliban
had no intention of making peace with the Northern Alliance” (Richardson, p.
231). The ceasefire held approximately one month, long enough for Pakistan to violate
the arms embargo the Northern Alliance had observed, replenishing the Taliban’s
arsenal. The rest is terror history.
The Death Threat That Wasn’t
Richardson claims part of his trip to Afghanistan was to convince the Taliban to extradite
or expel Osama bin Laden. “Later, on the national evening news, Andrea Mitchell
of NBC reported that bin Laden, apparently made aware of what I asked of the
Taliban, had threatened to kill me.” His wife, Barbara, instantly objected:
“All this isn’t worth your getting killed, she said to me when I got home” (Richardson,
p. 229). Trying to flush out a man who had declared war on America, who would
eventually kill thousands of Americans and may yet kill thousands more: not
worth the life of one Richardson.
However, it appears the death threat never occurred. In an August 1998 story entitled “Richardson
Wasn’t Threatened,” The Albequerque
spokesman for the agency charged with protecting U.S. ambassadors disputed a
television news report that Osama bin Laden personally threatened the life of
former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson.
“Not true at all,” said Andy Laine, a spokesman for the State Department's
Diplomatic Security Service.
Richardson repeats the claim in his 2005 autobiography.
Fool Me Once….
If he learned
anything from being conned by the Taliban, he did not betray it during the 2008
Democratic presidential primaries. As president, he vowed to place human rights
ahead of our national security. When asked during debate about our policy in
Pakistan, Richardson told Wolf Blitzer:
We forgot our principles, our principles
that we said to [then-Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf: You know,
Musharraf, security is more important than human rights. If I’m president, it’s
the other way around – democracy and human rights (come first).
asked him if he were arguing “human rights, at times, are more important than
American national security?”
Richardson retorted, “because I believe we need to find ways to say to the
world that, you know, it's not just about what Halliburton wants in Iraq.”
(Ironically, Richardson had labored for big business himself. “Secretary of
Energy Bill Richardson went to Nigeria to help arrange for a joint energy
development project that resulted in $882 millions' worth of power contracts
toward Iraq was worse. Richardson advocated a total U.S. withdrawal from Iraq
within six months, putting him within breathing space of Dennis Kucinich and
wished to open diplomatic relations with North Korea. “North Korea,” he assured
one audience “sees themselves eventually as an ally of the United States; in
other words, as an ally against China.”
With such an
outlook, one can understand why he declared at the 2004 Democratic National
Convention that Jimmy Carter had given us “a strong America.”
The Other Lewinsky Perjurer?
As a footnote to
his time at the UN, Bill Richardson came to prominence by playing a minor role
in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. When Monica indicated she wanted to live in New
York City in the fall of 1997, President Humidor got on the phone to Bill
Richardson, who promptly offered Monica Lewinsky a job in public relations at
the UN. The job paid an attractive salary and happened to be located in the Big
Apple. When examined, Richardson may have lied about his role to a grand jury.
Richardson claimed he offered an “existing” job, but it appears he
went out of his way to assist her, contacting her and transferring another employee to make the job available. In
his memoir, Between Worlds,
Richardson protests his entire involvement came about “innocently enough.” He
does not mention his late evening phone calls offering her the job, but relates
Monica “mulled it over for a couple of months but eventually turned us down” (Richardson,
pp. 234-5). Do most government employers allow one to dally a couple of months?
months after he scratched Bill’s back, Clinton offered him a promotion to
Secretary of Energy.
DOE and Chinese Dough
Clinton campaign in 1992 as a hawk who would get tough with China for its human
rights violations. He proceeded to treat China as a “strategic partner,”
approving one special waiver after another to transfer dual-use technology to
companies run or partially run by the Chinese military via the Commerce
Department. The-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown summed
up the administration’s attitude well when he said, “Once divided by ideology,
we are now drawn together by shared economic interests.” former Commerce Department
official Jeffrey Garten described the agency as “a wild bazaar” (Lowry, Legacy, pp. 226-7); secrets were auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Some have argued
Clinton was committed to “multipolarity”;
others that he viewed economic matters as more pressing than security. Perhaps
he merely coveted the enormous campaign donations Red Chinese provided. (In
all, the Democratic National Committee returned $2.8 millions in illegal
campaign funds from China from the 1996 campaign alone. The American companies
that benefited from these deals turned the cash into the Democratic Party.
Bernard Schwartz, chairman of Loral Space and Communications, gave more money
to the Democrats 1998 midterm efforts than any other donor.) Whatever the case,
he granted Red China nearly unfettered access to American nuclear technology –
and Bill Richardson’s Department of Energy was in the heat of it all.
In October 1998,
Richardson’s DOE sold the EHI Group a $9 million supercomputer from Sandia
National Laboratories for $30,000.
The buyer, a Chinese national, had stated he wanted to use it for spare parts,
but DOE learned he intended to ship it to Beijing. Nearly a year later, the
Department had to pay $88,000 to get it back, by which time the sensitive information
on its disc may have been recovered and turned over. Rep. Curt Weldon summed the situation up well in a letter he penned to
Richardson, demanding his resignation: “Ironically, at the very time the Cox
committee was investigating the transfer of sensitive technology to China, your
employees were selling some of our most sophisticated systems to them at
From 1997-8, the Clinton administration allowed 191 supercomputers to be
exported to Red China, checking exactly one
to see if it was being used for weapons production.
What the Chinese
couldn’t buy, they would steal – often under the dozing eye of Bill Richardson.
agency was not devoid of people sounding the alarm. Notra Trulock, once the
director of intelligence for the Dept. of Energy, was demoted in May 1998 in
favor of a Richardson choice. Trulock had consistently warned of ongoing Chinese
espionage at the DOE’s nuclear laboratories. A year earlier, he had briefed
Richardson’s predecessor, Frederico Peña, about espionage at Los Alamos. He
requested a meeting in February 1997
and finally received one in June; he then twice briefed Sandy Berger. As with
all security concerns in the Clinton years, action was slow in coming. In September
1998, with the agency under Richardson’s control and reforms still moving at a
snail’s pace, Trulock turned to Chris Cox’s bipartisan House Select Committee.
Cox and his team were studying the issue of China’s infiltration of the bureaucracy
and their theft of nuclear secrets. Trulock noted the computer technology
Clinton authorized for sale would greatly benefit China, especially with the
information stolen from Los Alamos. He again testified that November. Staffers
remembered ranking Democrat Norm Dicks as “apoplectic,” screaming, “This is
incredible! I can’t believe it!” Dicks
himself stated, “Everybody in town knows how screwed up DOE is, but nobody knew
it was this bad.”
did not ingratiate himself by later identifying Bill Richardson as the one who
leaked Wen Ho Lee’s name to the New York
Times’ James Risen. After leaving the department, Trulock penned a book
criticizing his superiors – only to see his house raided by FBI agents on the
pretense that the manuscript draft contained classified information. He later
identified himself as bankrupt. The administration could mobilize when it
perceived a truly dangerous enemy, one who might embarrass it in the process of
saving the country.
The Extent of
inherited a dysfunctional agency, and records prove it remained so after he
left. A document entitled “Foreign Collection Against the Department of Energy,” produced after Richardson took over the agency, painted a stark
It recounted that a dozen nations posed “significant” threats and still others
were “targeting the unique and valuable scientific and technological
information held by DOE.” The report warned, “The US Department of Energy (DOE)
is under attack by foreign collectors – intelligence officers, as well as
scientists, academics, engineers, and businessmen – who are aggressively
targeting DOE nuclear, sensitive and proprietary, and unclassified information.
The losses are extensive and include highly classified nuclear weapon design
information to the Chinese.” Despite such warning, between late 1998 and early 1999,
on Richardson’s watch, Chinese government researchers based in Beijing
downloaded a “three-foot-high stack” of sensitive nuclear information from Los
Alamos’ FTP site (Gertz, The China Threat, pp. 132-3).
with Sandy Berger, publicly defended the president’s “quick response” to
espionage, citing Presidential Decision Directive 61 – which took a mere
two-and-a-half years to produce.
The Cox Report ultimately found China had acquired many of the nation’s most advanced weapons systems. Congress appointed a new committee to oversee DOE security. The GAO notes, “In response to security and management weaknesses, in 1999 the [Republican-controlled] Congress created the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a separately organized agency within the Department of Energy (DOE).” Richardson opposed its creation (Richardson, p. 254).
The Wen Ho Lee Debacle
encapsulates the failures of the DOE like the case of Wen Ho Lee, an employee
at Los Alamos laboratory. Under watch since 1982, when he contacted a Chinese
spy in another case, Lee enjoyed free access to America’s nuclear secrets – and
freely contacted Chinese officials. In 1997, FBI Director Louis Freeh argued at
a minimum Lee should be removed from the X Division, the most vital part of the
laboratory with access to the government’s “legacy codes.” Richardson wrote the
result: “Nothing was done” (Richardson, p. 250). When fresh charges were
raised, Richardson publicly demanded Lee’s firing – but Lee’s access to this
information was not denied until December 1998, after he failed a polygraph
Even after that, Lee found ways to access the X Division’s computers, deleting
files from its server.
In time, the Justice Department case against him fell apart, in part because Wen
Ho Lee used “graymail” against the feds: federal prosecutors realized pursuing
the case would mean exposing vital national secrets and agreed to a plea
bargain in exchange for time served. Nonetheless, Freeh told the Senate Judiciary and Select
Intelligence committees in 2000, “The Department
of Justice and the FBI stand by each and every one of the 59 counts in the
indictment of Dr. Lee…Each of those counts could be proven in December 1999,
and each of them could be proven today.”
managed to come down hard publicly on Lee – without denying him access to nuclear
secrets. He demanded jail time for Lee, but only strenuously enough to cripple
the government’s case against him. Ironically, a group of Chinese-Americans in
Silicon Valley currently oppose Richardson’s appointment as Commerce Secretary –
on the grounds that he was too harsh with Wen Ho Lee.
Not the End of the Line
The Wen Ho Lee
case was but one of the embarrassments of Richardson’s DOE tenure. In July
2000, Los Alamos announced it had lost two computer disks containing nuclear
secrets. Los Alamos had reportedly waited three weeks before declaring them
missing to DOE. The disks were later found behind a copier in the X Division,
perhaps returned to cover the crime.
Congress to testify on the matter, Richardson waited a week before appearing
before the Senate to testify about Los Alamos, supposedly because he wanted to
have “all the facts.” The senators saw this as more administrative stonewalling
– and excoriated him. Sen. Jim Warner told Richardson, “These incidents
happened on your watch. Like the captain of a ship, you must bear full
accountability.” Sen. Richard Shelby called on him to resign.
Sen. Robert Byrd Promised Never to Support
criticism came from Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, who said, “You've waited and shown
contempt of Congress that borders on supreme arrogance. You had a bright and
brilliant career, but you will never again receive the support of the U.S.
Senate for any office you seek. You have squandered your treasure.”
We will be watching Sen. Byrd to see how he votes – and urges his colleagues to
vote – in Richardson’s upcoming confirmation hearings.
Bill Richardson, D-Roswell
humiliated Richardson, and taken with the other failures on his watch, they
seemed to doom him. Al Gore, who had considered the Latino for his vice
presidential short list, went instead with Joe Lieberman. Richardson went on to
be elected governor of New Mexico and campaign on behalf of John Kerry in 2004.
After being handily re-elected governor two years ago, he entered the Democratic
presidential fray as a longshot.
complicated his longshot chances by flubbing an easy interview with Hardball’s Chris Matthews. Matthews, who has a soft spot for
Richardson, joked after a Democratic presidential debate at Dennis Kucinich’s
insistence he had seen a UFO. Matthews made a throwaway joke, asking Richardson
if he believed earth had been visited by alien life forms. To his surprise, Richardson proceeded to
charge that the government had “not come clean” about a possible UFO crash at
Roswell, New Mexico. In fact, he had a several-year-long track record of
his watch, the nation can lift itself out of recession by selling tinfoil hats.
Bill Richardson: Pity Whore
are known as the party of compassion, and Richardson’s autobiography reveals a
man who has the greatest of sympathy – for himself. In whitewashing his many
failures, he seems always to wallow in a well of self-pity. Although he appears
to have acted in a shifty manner in order to offer a job to his boss’s
mistress, he whines, Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles was brisk with him. “Oh
great, the chief of staff to the president was above it all, unwilling to
participate with a seedy bastard like me.” Although he released a public
statement that may have been at odds with the truth, he complains, “I was done
with Monica Lewinsky, but she remained an uninvited party in my life through
1998” (Richardson, pp. 236, 240). Turning
to his failures at DOE, he admits he was premature in assuring the American
people “their nuclear secrets are now safe at the labs.” “We weren’t there
yet,” he wrote, “and that quote would come back to bite me.” (pp. 253-4).
the second Los Alamos scandal, the one over missing disks, he grouses, “I
became the butt of jokes from Dom Imus and other talk radio types” (p. 255).
Again, during the hearings, Richardson felt sorry for himself, reporting “the
senators – Republicans and Democrats alike – were taking turns bashing me like
a piñata….The summer of 2000 was a low point in my public life” (Richardson, p.
256). Richardson would later sniff, “The Los Alamos incident, the hard drives,
cost me being in serious consideration for the ticket.”
and the United States’ strongest long-term competitor had burgled reams of our
nuclear secrets that might allow them to vaporize millions of innocent
Bill Richardson now has some measure of public esteem. He will have a hand in crafting economic policy, perhaps more. It would be an overstatement to say he is an economic radical by the Democratic Party’s standards. He voted for NAFTA and claims he supports expanding it, though such a policy is hard to square with his statements to the AFL-CIO. His tax cuts as governor of New Mexico are not completely offset by his fee increases, though he accelerated state spending. Though his overall voting record for Americans for Democratic Action often fluctuated in the 70-80 percent range, he is well to the Right of Robert Reich. If Obama decides to govern as a centrist, as some on the Right as claiming, he may reign in the more extreme tax increases and environmental regulations those on his Left clamor for.
But realizing the economic good of the nation and the world rests of the market savvy of Messers. Richardson and Obama is cold comfort, indeed.