Richardson withdraws as nominee for Commerce secretary

"Pay-to-play" investigation involving state contracts in New Mexico becomes an issue.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name for Commerce secretary, citing an investigation into a company that has done business with his state, NBC News reported this afternoon.

"Let me say unequivocally that I and my administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact," Richardson said. "But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process."

Richardson said in a statement that the investigation "promises to extend for several weeks or, perhaps, even months."

Richardson said he will continue to serve as governor but had told President-elect Obama "that I am eager to serve in the future in any way he deems useful."

In a statement, Obama said he accepted Richardson's decision to withdraw with 'deep regret' and that "we must move quickly to fill the void left by Governor Richardson's decision."

"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," Obama added.

"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," he said.

Richardson, 61, was United Nations ambassador and energy secretary during the Clinton administration, and he is in his second term as New Mexico's governor. He also served seven terms in the House.

A federal grand jury is investigating how a California company that contributed to Richardson's political activities won a lucrative New Mexico state contract, the Associated Press reported.

A source told the AP the grand jury is looking into possible 'pay-to-play' dealings between CDR Financial Products and someone in a position to push the contract through with the state of New Mexico.

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