Brief of the Week December 8

CONTROVERSIAL COMMERCE CHOICE: Almost immediately after President-elect Obama tapped Bill Richardson to be secretary of Commerce last week, all of the old controversies surrounding the New Mexico governor and former top Clinton Administration official were being dusted off. Most serious of all was the fire he came under for security lapses as secretary of Energy in 1999, when several senators criticized Richardson for not testifying sooner than he did that nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee was a suspect in the theft of classified documents from the national laboratory at Los Alamos, N. M. Lee had twice visited Communist China in the 1980s and failed to report that on the second visit he was asked by scientists to assist that country in its development of nuclear facilities. Lee was eventually indicted on 59 counts of espionage, jailed in solitary confinement, and finally charged with only one count of mishandling sensitive documents. (The other 58 counts were dropped after the government could not prove its case.) Earlier, as Clinton’s United Nations ambassador, Richardson admitted that in 1997 he had interviewed White House intern Monica Lewinsky for a job at the UN, and offered her a position which she eventually declined. His account of the interview and how much he knew of Lewinsky’s involvement with Bill Clinton came under sharp attack from then-Sen. Frank Murkowski (R.-Alaska) during Richardson’s confirmation hearings to be secretary of Energy in 1998. The American Spectator later provided considerable evidence that Richardson knew more than he had said publicly.