Richardson -- not charged, but not exonerated

A U.S. attorney pours cold water on the New Mexico governor's celebration

Published August 28, 2009 7:50PM (EDT)

The cloud that's been hanging over New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson recently, and cost him his shot at being Commerce secretary, appeared to be lifted yesterday. That's when the Associated Press broke the news that Richardson won't face charges stemming from a federal probe of pay-to-play allegations. Now, the cloud is back.

On Thursday, a Richardson spokesman, Gilbert Gallegos, took a little victory lap, saying in a statement that the governor is "gratified that this yearlong investigation has ended with the vindication of his administration."

That's not the way the U.S. attorney sees it, though. Greg Fouratt sent a letter to defense attorneys, the AP reports, in which he said the fact that no charges were filed "is not to be interpreted as an exoneration of any party's conduct." He also said the investigation "revealed that pressure from the governor's office resulted in the corruption of the procurement process."

It's not great form for a prosecutor to be talking guilt out of court when there weren't even any indictments, but that's not likely to matter politically. Rather than being able to go on from here free and clear, Richardson will have to deal with that letter hanging around his neck for some time.

In another statement, this one released Friday, Gallegos said Fouratt's letter "is wrong on the facts and appears to be nothing more than sour grapes."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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