- Spent fourteen years as a Congressman from New Mexico
- Had a left-of-center voting record
- Was Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of Energy under Bill Clinton
- Twice elected as Governor of New Mexico
- Ran an unsuccessful campaign for President in 2008
- Was appointed by President Barack Hussein Obama to be his Secretary of Commerce in December 2008
- Withdrew from consideration for Secretary of Commerce in January 2009
Bill Richardson was born in Pasadena, California in November 1947. In 1970 he earned a bachelor's degree in French and political science from Tufts University. The following year, he earned a master's degree in international affairs from Tufts’ Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.
After completing his education, Richardson worked for Congressman F. Bradford Morse (R-Massachusetts). He later served as a staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he worked on congressional relations for the State Department during the Nixon administration.
In 1978 Richardson moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he made an unsuccessful run for Congress as a Democrat in 1980. Two years later, he won a seat in New Mexico's newly-created third congressional district; he would spend the next 14 years as a member of Congress. The left-leaning organization Americans for Democratic Action rated Richardson’s overall voting record as a legislator generally in the 70-80 percent range, meaning that his votes were decidedly left-of-center.
In 1997 President Bill Clinton appointed Richardson to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a post he would hold until Clinton named him U.S. Secretary of Energy the following year. Richardson would retain that position until the end of the Clinton administration in January 2001.
Richardson and Environmentalism
Throughout his political career, Richardson’s positions on environmental issues have been largely consistent with the agendas of radical environmentalism, whose goal, as writer Michael Berliner explains, “is not clean air and clean water,” but rather “the demolition of technological / industrial civilization.” Richardson’s lifetime voting record (in Congress) received an 82 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
In February 2007, The Washington Post reported that then-presidential candidate Richardson was calling for the American people to “sacrifice to cut oil imports from 65 percent of fossil fuel use to 10 percent in 15 years.” Opposed to oil exploration and drilling in Alaska, Richardson told newsman Chris Wallace, “I think the ANWR argument is ridiculous.” Moreover, he pledged before the LCV that he opposed oil drilling in the American continental shelf. He vowed to “mandate” higher fuel efficiency standards and greater use of biofuels by automakers. And he promised to lean on “fishing and transportation interests” to accept the Green agenda in “their own long-term interest.”
In 2007 Richardson told the Asia Society that, if elected, “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.” (It is estimated that Americans could expect to lose 1.1 million jobs and $338 billion annually for several years -- for complying with the weaker Kyoto.)
Richardson and Labor
On the presidential campaign trail, Richardson 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.”
But implementing such criteria would effectively bar any free trade agreement with any nation poorer than the United States.
Richardson had proven his fidelity to the union party line before. "One of my first actions as Governor," he said, "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."
Richardson also supports the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), 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. Yet Richardson has a history of delivering for labor; his AFL-CIO lifetime voting record is 88 percent.
Richardson and 9/11
Richardson’s most damaging political legacy was his ineffectiveness in preventing the 9/11 attacks from taking place. Had he not intervened in Mideast events, the Taliban may have been wiped out as early as 1998. In April of that year, (when Richardson was a UN Ambassador), President Clinton dispatched him to Afghanistan to impose an arms embargo on the U.S.-friendly forces of the Northern Alliance, which were then locked in a civil war against the pro-bin Laden Taliban. Moreover, Richardson brokered a deal in which the Northern Alliance and the Taliban agreed to lay down their arms. He then congratulated himself on having done “a good day’s work.”
Yet a shocked Richardson would later write that he “quickly learned that the Taliban had no intention of making peace with the Northern Alliance.” The ceasefire held for approximately one month, long enough for Pakistan to violate the arms embargo which the Northern Alliance had observed, replenishing the Taliban’s arsenal. Thus the path to 9/11 was cleared, as Congressman Dana Rohrbacher explains:
“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 [the Taliban] from being destroyed and being defeated.”
Richardson claims that one objective of his trip to Afghanistan was to convince the Taliban to extradite or expel Osama bin Laden. He writes, “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.”
Evidence indicates, however, that the death threat never actually occurred. In an August 1998 story entitled “Richardson Wasn’t Threatened,” The Albequerque Journal reported: “A 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,” emphasized Andy Laine, a spokesman for the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service.
Richardson, Bill Clinton, and Monica Lewinsky
As a footnote to his time at the UN, Richardson came to prominence by playing a minor role in the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal. When Lewinsky indicated that she wanted to live in New York City in the fall of 1997, President Clinton telephoned Richardson, who promptly offered Lewinsky a job in public relations at the UN. The job paid an attractive salary and, of course, was located in New York. When Richardson was later questioned by a grand jury about his role in trying to secure a UN job for Lewinsky, he claimed that he had merely offered her an “existing” job. But this was untrue; he actually had transferred another employee in order to make the position available to Lewinsky.
Six months after Richardson's efforts on Lewinsky's behalf, Clinton offered him a promotion to Secretary of Energy.
Department of Energy and Chinese Money
Bill Clinton had campaigned in 1992 as a hawk who would get tough with China for its human rights violations. Yet he proceeded to treat China as a “strategic partner,” approving one special waiver after another to transfer dual-use technology to companies that were run, or partially run, by the Chinese military via the Commerce Department. Then-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”; national security secrets were auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Some have argued Clinton was committed to “multipolarity”; others contend that he viewed economic matters as more pressing than security. Perhaps he merely coveted the enormous campaign donations which the Chinese provided. (In all, the Democratic National Committee returned $2.8 million in illegal campaign funds from China from the 1996 campaign alone. The American companies that benefited from these deals funneled large sums of cash to 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, Clinton granted China nearly unfettered access to American nuclear technology -- and Bill Richardson’s Department of Energy (DOE) was in the heart 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 that he wanted to use it for spare parts, but DOE later learned that he actually 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. Representative Curt Weldon summed the situation up well in a letter he penned to Richardson, demanding the latter's resignation:
“Ironically, at the very time the Cox committee [a panel headed by Republican congressman Christopher Cox] was investigating the transfer of sensitive technology to China, your employees were selling some of our most sophisticated systems to them at bargain-basement prices.”
From 1997-98, the Clinton administration allowed 191 supercomputers to be exported to Red China, checking only one to see if it was being used for weapons production.
Chinese Espionage and Richardson
What the Chinese could not buy, they would steal -- often under the dozing eye of Bill Richardson. The DOE was not devoid of people sounding the alarm. Notra Trulock, once the director of intelligence for the Department of Energy, 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 National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.
In September 1998, with the DOE under Richardson’s control, 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 its theft of nuclear secrets. Trulock noted that the computer technology which Clinton had 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.”
The Extent of DOE Theft
Richardson inherited a dysfunctional DOE, and records prove it remained so throughout his tenure there. A document entitled “Foreign Collection Against the Department of Energy,” produced after Richardson took over the agency, recounted that a dozen nations posed “significant” threats, and that still others were “targeting the unique and valuable scientific and technological information held by DOE.” The report warned:
“The U.S. 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 warnings, 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’ File Transfer Protocol site. Richardson and Sandy Berger publicly defended the President’s “quick response” to the espionage crisis, citing Presidential Decision Directive 61 -- which had taken fully two-and-a-half years to produce.
The Cox Report ultimately found that China had acquired many of America’s most advanced weapons systems. Congress appointed a new committee to oversee DOE security. As the Government Accountability Office 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 NNSA's creation.
The Wen Ho Lee Debacle
Nothing quite encapsulates the failures of Richardson's DOE like the case of Wen Ho Lee, an employee at Los Alamos laboratory. Under watch since 1982, when he had 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 that, 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.” But as Richardson later acknowledged, “Nothing was done.”
When fresh charges were raised against Lee, Richardson publicly demanded his firing. But Lee’s access to this information was not denied until December 1998, after he had failed a polygraph test. 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 Lee used “graymail” against the feds: federal prosecutors realized that pursuing the case would mean exposing vital national secrets, thus they 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.”
The Wen Ho Lee case was but one of the embarrassments of Richardson’s DOE tenure. In July 2000, Los Alamos announced that 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.
Called before Congress to testify on the Los Alamos matter, Richardson waited a week before appearing, supposedly because he wanted to have “all the facts.” The senators saw this as more administrative stonewalling -- and they excoriated him. Senator Jim Warner told Richardson, “These incidents happened on your watch. Like the captain of a ship, you must bear full accountability.” Senator Richard Shelby called on Richardson to resign.
The harshest criticism came from Senator Robert Byrd, (D-West Virginia), 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.”
The hearings humiliated Richardson. Al Gore, who had considered Richardson for his vice presidential short list, instead chose Joe Lieberman.
Richardson's Political Career Progresses
Richardson rebounded politically, however. He went on to be elected governor of New Mexico in 2002, and he campaigned on behalf of presidential candidate John Kerry two years later. After being handily re-elected governor in 2006, Richardson entered the Democratic presidential fray as a longshot in 2007.
He diminished his longshot chances by flubbing an easy interview with Hardball’s Chris Matthews, however. The newsman joked with Richardson about another Democrat presidential hopeful, Dennis Kucinich, who during a recent debate had insisted that he once had seen a UFO. When Matthews then asked Richardson if he believed that earth had ever been visited by alien life forms, Richardson proceeded to assert that the U.S. 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 similar statements.
During the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries, Richardson, speaking about U.S. policies in Pakistan, told newsman 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 [going to be] the other way around -- democracy and human rights [will come first].”
Blitzer then asked Richardson if he were arguing that “human rights, at times, are more important than American national security?” “Yes,” 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.”
In September 2007 Richardson advocated a total U.S. withdrawal from Iraq within six months. He wrote:
"… [T]he facts suggest that a rapid, complete withdrawal -- not a drawn-out,Vietnam-like process -- would be the most responsible and effective course of action. Those who think we need to keep troops in Iraq misunderstand the Middle East. I have met and negotiated successfully with many regional leaders, including Saddam Hussein. I am convinced that only a complete withdrawal can sufficiently shift the politics of Iraq and its neighbors to break the deadlock that has been killing so many people for so long. Our troops have done everything they were asked to do with courage and professionalism, but they cannot win someone else's civil war. So long as American troops are in Iraq, reconciliation among Iraqi factions is postponed. Leaving forces there enables the Iraqis to delay taking the necessary steps to end the violence."
Candidate Richardson also expressed a desire to open diplomatic relations with North Korea, whose people, he said, “[see] themselves eventually as an ally of the United States; in other words, as an ally against China.”
Richardson’s presidential bid was ultimately unsuccessful. Then, on December 3, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama selected him to be his Secretary of Commerce.
On January 4, 2009, Richardson announced that he was withdrawing his name from consideration for Commerce Secretary, as a federal grand jury investigation into a state contract awarded to his political donors threatened to derail his approval by the Senate. Specifically, a California company (CDR Financial Products) that had contributed to Richardson's political activities won a $1.48 million New Mexico transportation contract.
 Bill Gertz, The China Threat, pp. 132-133.
Most of this profile is adapted from the article "The Left's Man at Commerce," written by Ben Johnson and published by FrontPageMag.com on December 5, 2008.