The grand jury has been hearing testimony in secret since at least September, and a number of witnesses have been granted immunity, according to defense attorneys familiar with the general outlines of the investigation.
Neither the U.S. Attorney’s Office nor the FBI would confirm or deny the existence of the latest investigation.
But the Journal has learned that one area under scrutiny is whether money from campaign supporters was used to settle a threatened lawsuit against Richardson in the fall of 2007 by a woman who formerly worked in state government.
If money from supporters was used in that way, the investigation would seek to determine who raised it, how it was tied to the Richardson campaign and how it was paid to the woman.
Several people familiar with some aspects of the investigation have mentioned similarities to pending criminal charges against former presidential candidate John Edwards on allegations that his campaign supporters paid to shield the candidate from a public scandal.
The legal issue is whether the money constituted a de facto campaign contribution made in furtherance of the candidate’s bid for federal office.
In the Edwards case, the charges involve both the fact that the alleged contributions exceeded the $2,300 federal limit and the fact they were not reported.
In the grand jury investigation in Albuquerque, contributors with varying degrees of business with the state during the Richardson administrations (2003-2010) have been called to testify, as have officials of his bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
In the fall of 2007, there were meetings between campaign officials and members of Richardson’s inner circle about how to raise money to resolve the threatened litigation before it became public. It was settled before the end of 2007.
According to private attorneys familiar with the investigation, the probe involves several other matters tied together by potential election law violations, including possible coordination between so-called “soft money” from political action committees and the campaign.
Richardson spent much of 2007 raising money for his presidential run in the Democratic Party primaries and bowed out in January 2008 after disappointing results in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
He later endorsed President Barack Obama and was nominated for a Cabinet post as commerce secretary.
Richardson withdrew his name in early 2009 because of a different grand jury investigation that later ended without returning indictments.
However, the U.S. attorney wrote a letter to defense lawyers saying the Richardson administration had corrupted the state procurement process and that the lack of an indictment in the case should not be interpreted as exoneration.
A Richardson spokesman at that time dismissed that characterization as sour grapes. A spokesman did not return an e-mail request for comment on the latest investigation.
This makes at least the fourth grand jury that has investigated Richardson, or his administration, or his campaign, since 2008. Two were completed without returning indictments, and the third – involving state investments – has been pending for more than two years.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal