Richardson’s record called inconsistent

Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson was confronted on “Meet the Press” yesterday with a number of inconsistencies in his record, including calling for a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq just 18 months after writing in his book that any such move would “undermine” the Iraqi government.

On the NBC show, Mr. Richardson told moderator Tim Russert that he thinks his party “missed a great opportunity” by sending President Bush an Iraq funding bill that doesn’t include a timetable for withdrawal.

However, Mr. Russert pointed out that the New Mexico governor had until recently taken a very different position, criticizing any pullout before the Iraqi government could handle its own security.

In his political memoir “Between Worlds,” published in November 2005, Mr. Richardson wrote, “At this point we must see this mission through. We mustn’t stay in Iraq past the point where the new government asks us to leave, but neither can we unilaterally pull out before the Iraqis have achieved control over their own internal security. We owe them the opportunity to make their democracy work. We must not undermine their efforts now.”

Mr. Richardson denied that his new stance was undermining U.S. troops but said he reached his current conclusions “after incompetency, deceitfulness by this administration, the fact that there’s no weapons of mass destruction, the link to al Qaeda was enormously suspect . There is no basis for us to be there.”

When asked whether his initial support of the war was a mistake, Mr. Richardson said, “Yes, it was a mistake. It was a mistake. I openly state that.”

Mr. Richardson, who is the only governor seeking the Democratic nomination, was questioned about his performance and stances on a number of other issues.

A recent Associated Press report revealed that the mother of Army National Guard Lance Cpl. Aaron Austin, who was killed in Iraq in April 2004, thinks that Mr. Richardson took a conversation about her deceased son’s federal death benefits out of context.

Mr. Richardson has stated in his stump speeches that mother De’on Miller thanked him for increasing the National Guard death benefit from $11,000 to $400,000 and even showed the governor one of her government checks.

However, Ms. Miller says the conversation never took place, telling the AP: “I don’t know a person rich or poor that would be told that” her “only living child has been killed, and you’re going to strike up a money conversation? Bill Richardson needs to stop pushing this lie. Aaron’s name had better not be used again in any way. Not mine either. A full written apology is due me for this.”

Mr. Richardson declined to apologize yesterday on “Meet the Press” but did promise to stop using her son’s name in campaign events, saying that he and Ms. Miller “just have different recollections.”

“That family is honorable. I attended that service. I was really moved,” Mr. Richardson said. “You know, I call as many of the mothers of New Mexico soldiers that’ve been killed. But no one will ever question my commitment to help our veterans.”

Mr. Richardson was also pressed on illegal immigration. After a compromise was struck between senators and the White House on reform legislation, he announced his support for the plan, saying, “This legislation makes a good start.”

But 72 hours later, he changed his position and now opposes the compromise, saying some of the rules will break up families by requiring members already here to go back to their home country for a time.

Mr. Richardson told NBC yesterday that he was busy announcing his official run for president at the time the legislation was announced and had only had an opportunity read a summary of its contents when announcing his initial support.

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