Doug Domenech, a Trump administration official and the father-in-law of Meghan McCain, is one of six Interior Department appointees under investigation for potentially violating ethics rules that prohibit them from discussing government business with their former employers.
Domenech has been serving as the Interior Department’s Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs since September 18, 2017, after a unanimous vote in the Senate. Domenech also served as a senior advisor to the department beginning in January of 2017. Prior to joining the administration, Domenech worked at the Texas Public Policy Foundation as the Director of its Fueling Freedom Project, from March 2015 until January of 2017. The foundation is a conservative think tank based in Austin.
Domenech signed a pledge that he would recuse himself from any matters related to the Texas Public Policy Foundation. The non-partisan Campaign Legal Center accused him of violating that pledge.
The Legal Center submitted a letter to the Interior Department’s Inspector General in February urging the department to look into the conduct of six senior officials. According to the letter, embedded below, Domenech had two meetings with officials at the Texas Public Policy Foundation after he joined the Trump administration. The organization was involved in legal cases against the Interior Department. The Campaign Legal Center stated in its letter that Domenech’s official calendar included the back-to-back meetings and that they “violate the ethics pledge” Domenech signed.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Report: Doug Domenech Participated in Closed Meetings With His Former Employer to Discuss Litigation Against the Interior Department After He Had Become a Trump Administration Official
President Trump signed an executive order shortly after taking office that prohibits appointees from discussing government business with former employers for two years. The Congressional Research Service explains that former presidents Obama and Clinton had similar orders in place in order to avoid conflicts of interest. The executive order ” required all appointees to observe a two-year ban on ‘particular matters’ related to former employers, a two-year ban for former lobbyists on involvement on matters on which he or she had lobbied, and a five-year ban on lobbying the government for appointees who leave government service.”
The Campaign Legal Center alleged in its February 2019 letter to the Department of Interior’s Inspector General that Domenech likely signed the pledge when he joined the Interior Department as a senior advisor in January of 2017. The organization cited public records that show Domenech definitely signed the pledge on September 5, 2017, when he was nominated to be the Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs.
The Legal Center alleges that Domenech had two meetings with officials at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in April of 2017. The letter to the Inspector General reads:
“According to Domenech’s official calendar, on April 6, 2017, he participated in a 30-minute meeting titled ‘Meeting with Rob Hennek, Texas Public Policy Foundation on Bone Harvestman Cave Spider,’whose inclusion on the Endangered Species list has been the subject of litigation between TPPF and Interior since 2015. Immediately following the discussion of that topic, Domenech’s calendar showed he participated in another 30-minute meeting with his former employer to discuss the ‘Red River Case,’ a property dispute that was being litigated between TPPF and Interior’s Bureau of Land Management at the time.18 Six months after that meeting, the government settled the Red River lawsuit, with TPPF calling the settlement a ‘major win.'”
The Campaign Legal Center also alleged that Domenech participated in a video call with the Texas Public Policy Foundation on November 30, 2017. The Inspector General confirmed in a letter on April 18, 2019, that an investigation had been opened. Attorney for the legal center Delaney Marsco told CNN, “We hope this investigation will answer whether these officials are working on behalf of the American people, or on behalf of the interests that used to pay their salary.”
2. Doug Domenech’s Role Involves Overseeing Policy Decisions in U.S. Territories Including American Samoa, Guam & the Virgin Islands
Doug Domenech was confirmed by the Senate as the Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs at the Interior Department on September 13, 2017. The vote was unanimous. He assumed the job on September 18.
Domenech explains on his Linkedin profile that he is responsible for overseeing administrative functions in U.S. territories. He lists the following areas as being part of his department’s responsibility: American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. He also administers federal assistance to the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau.
The Interior Department website includes that Domenech’s role was expanded in February of 2018. Then-Secretary Ryan Zinke enlarged the scope of the Assistant Secretary’s responsibilities to include the “Office of Insular Affairs, the Office of International Affairs, and the Ocean, Great Lakes, and Coastal Program (Oceans Program).” You can read the secretarial order here.
3. Doug Domenech Previously Faced Scrutiny for Specific Stock Purchases Made After Becoming the Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs at the Interior Department
The current investigation is not the first time that Doug Domenech has faced pressure over his conduct as an administration official. Shortly after being sworn in as the Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs at the Interior Department, Domenech’s investments came under scrutiny.
In October of 2017, Domenech purchased stock in Compass Minerals, a company that produces salt, plant nutrients, and magnesium chloride and distributes the materials nationally. Politico reported at the time that the investment was valued between $15,001 and $50,000. This was viewed as problematic because according to government documents cited by Politico, Compass Minerals has had multiple contracts with government departments including Interior, Defense, Transportation and Veterans Affairs since 2011. ThinkProgress reported that the stock purchases raised questions about whether the Interior Department had any planned contracts with the company and if Domenech had knowledge of any such plans. Politico also reported that Compass Minerals does not do business in U.S. territories that Domenech oversees.
4. Domenech Worked at the Interior Department under President George W. Bush
Doug Domenech’s appointment to the Interior Department under the Trump administration was a return to his old stomping grounds. Domenech previously worked at Interior under President George W. Bush.
According to his Linkedin profile, Domenech joined the Bush administration in July of 2001 as the Deputy Director of External and Intergovernmental Affairs. After five months, he became the White House liaison to the Interior Department, a position he held until January of 2006. He also served as Deputy Chief of Staff for the department and as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs from March of 2008 until January of 2009. Domenech later worked as the Secretary of Natural Resources in Virginia from 2010 until 2014.
Domenech’s resume includes 11 years as Director of Forestry Programs for the Forest Resources Association. The trade organization, according to its website, “represents the interests of nearly 300 organizations and businesses” including “loggers, mills, equipment manufacturers, local forestry associations” and large corporations. Domenech worked for the organization from 1982 until 1993.
Domenech has a bachelor’s degree in Forestry and Wildlife Management from Virginia Tech University. He graduated in 1978.
5. Doug Domenech’s Son, Ben Domenech, is the Co-Founder of the Federalist, a Conservative Online Magazine
Doug Domenech is the father of Ben Domenech, the co-founder and publisher of the Federalist. The conservative online magazine launched in September of 2013. Ben Domenech is a regular contributor to CBS News. He also often appears on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, and his writings have been published by the Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast and Politico.
Ben Domenech has been married to the View co-host Meghan McCain since November of 2017. Her father, the late Senator John McCain, walked her down the aisle.
McCain was accused of taking time off from her hosting gig in April to avoid talking about the investigation into her father-in-law on-camera. The Daily Mail, citing the View producers, reported that McCain “faked sick” for two days.