Former diplomat help free Britteny Griner
Bill Richardson, an American politician whose domestic success was rivaled by his exploits in diplomacy and foreign affairs, died in his sleep at the age of 75 on Sept. 2.
William Blaine Richardson III held the distinction of being an “anchor baby” while tracing his lineage from one of the passengers on the Mayflower as it arrived in the New World in 1620. His father, a Citibank executive of Anglo and Mexican parentage, made a point of sending his mother north to Pasadena, Ca. where he was born in 1947. His birthright as a United States citizen secured, she and her newborn infant returned to their palatial hacienda outside Mexico City where he grew up.
At 13 he returned to America for prep school near Boston, and became a promising baseball player, a passtime he continued at Tufts University were he earned bachelors and masters degrees by 1971. Entering the realm of Massachusetts politics as a Republican, he moved to New Mexico where he transitioned to the Democratic Party where he was elected to Congress by 1983.
Befriended Bill Clinton as he ascended to the Presidency, Richardson became a diplomatic emissary for missions involving foreign policy. In this role he was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times, eventually becoming Ambassador to the United Nations where he developed a relationship with Nelson Mandela. Towards the start of Clinton’s second term in office, Richardson was confirmed as Energy Secretary in 1998. With the end of that administration he moved into education as a lecturer and professor, then onto directorship in the corporate world before assuming the governorship of New Mexico in 2002, serving two terms while continuing his participation in foreign policy with nuclear arms negotiations with North Korea.
Initially a Presidential hopeful in the 2008 campaign, Richardson deserted the Clinton camp by endorsing Barack Obama, and was briefly touted as a potential running mate as Vice President. With Obama’s victory, Richardson’s name was floated as a Cabinet member, first as Secretary of State, a role eventually filled by Hillary Clinton, then as Commerce Secretary. This confirmation was voided as allegations from his past surfaced.
Political ascension brings with it accusations of impropriety, factual or implied. As UN Ambassador in the Clinton Administration, Monica Lewinsky was referred by the White House for an internship on Richardson’s staff. She never joined his workforce, but as revelations about her affair with then President Clinton surfaced, the aura of the scandal lingered, along with allegations that Richardson was intimately connected with this misconduct.
During his governorship, allegations again surfaced about him soliciting monetary funding and/or sexual favors from political contributors. Still later in 2019, as the Jeffrey Epstein child trafficking revelations hit the media, Richardson’s name came up as one of the rich and powerful utilizing Epstein’s services as a procurer, and that he personally had sex with under-aged Virginia Roberts Giuffre, a rumor he denied.
His success on the international stage could not be denied, starting with the emancipation of two aircraft mechanics who’d inadvertently crossed the Iraqi border from Kuwait in 1995. The following year he successfully secured the release of accused spy Evan Hunziker from North Korea, and convicted heroin trafficker Lia McCord from Bangladesh. In 2021 he negotiated the freedom of journalist Danny Fenster, who’d been detained in Burma/Myanmar for sedition.
Bill Richardson achieved his greatest coup in December 2022, when he helped facilitate the prisoner exchange of “Merchant of Death” arms dealer Viktor Bout for basketball star Brittney Griner, who’d been convicted of cannabis possession in Russia. For this, he received his third Nobel Peace Prize nomination this past August. Bill Richardson maintained a residence in New Mexico and a summer home in Chatham, MA., where he passed away last weekend.