hey bill, remember wen ho lee? we do.

You've probably heard by now that Barack Obama has named Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico as his cabinet's Secretary of Commerce: Obama names Gov. Richardson to head Commerce. I don't think this appointment was much of a surprise to anyone, but it is a bit disappointing... and for some, downright upsetting. You can count me among those who are not supporters of Bill Richardson. Yeah, you bet your ass I'm holding a grudge.

Remember Wen Ho Lee? Back in 1999, the Taiwanese American scientist was working at Los Alamos National Laboratory when he was falsely accused of stealing U.S. nuclear secrets for China. He was indicted on 59 counts, jailed in solitary confinement for nine months, and eventually released on time served when the government's case against him fell apart. It was a debacle, a witch hunt, and a serious violation of Lee's civil rights.

At the time, Richardson was serving as Secretary of Energy under President Clinton, and was among the most vocal officials accusing Lee of espionage. He intentionally leaked Lee's name to the press as a suspect, and just generally made a mess of the whole ordeal, basically stripping an innocent man of his freedom and reputation. On a larger scale, the case was a huge setback in fighting the notion that all Chinese Americans are potential spies.

In the end, Lee was ultimately charged with only one count of mishandling sensitive documents, while all other 58 counts were dropped. President Clinton issued a public apology to Lee over his treatment by the federal government during the investigation. The New York Times also apologized for its faulty and irresponsible reporting of the case. The investigation was, from top to bottom, an utter mess.

Amidst all of this apologizing, Richardson stood by everything he said and did during the case. He has acknowledged the government made "some mistakes" (yeah, a few) in the Lee case, but he has denied that his public statements naming Lee as an espionage suspect represented racial profiling or exhibited a lack of judgment. Basically, he maintains that he did nothing wrong.

Fast forward to today. Almost a decade later, Richardson's severe lack of judgment does not sit well with an increasingly vocal group of Chinese American activists who oppose his nomination as commerce secretary: Chinese-American activists oppose any Bill Richardson cabinet nomination.

Richardson's refusal to acknowledge making serious errors in the Wen Ho Lee case makes it a moral imperative to oppose his nomination to Obama's cabinet. I supported and voted for Obama, but that certainly doesn't mean that I'm going to agree with every decision he makes. This is a bad one. Here's an online petition opposing the nomination: Gov Bill Richardson should not be nominated. More here: Bill Richardson Deprived Dr. Wen Ho Lee of His Rights; He Has No Place in an Obama Cabinet.

UPDATE: The following is an excerpt from a letter to President-elect Barack Obama and his transition team, asking them to reconsider Richardson's appointment, currently posted on WenHoLee.org:
To President Elect Obama and the Obama-Biden Transition Team,

As concerned citizens, we write to express our opposition to the appointment of Bill Richardson as the Secretary of Commerce. Our objection relates to Richardson's actions as Energy Secretary in violating Dr. Wen Ho Lee's due process rights by prematurely terminating Dr. Lee's employment, advancing the indictment of Dr. Lee when there was no evidence that he had engaged in espionage, and fueling suspicion about the loyalties of dedicated, hard-working Chinese-Americans. Richardson's actions raise serious questions about his judgment and sense of fairness, requisite qualifications of a presidential Cabinet nominee. Until Richardson concedes and apologizes for his actions, we will continue to object to his nomination.
Read the rest of the letter, downloadable in both English and Chinese, here. You can also submit your name to sign the letter, if you feel so inclined. (There are currently over a thousand names.)

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