Virginia governor-elect Bob McDonnell has named to his cabinet a Bush administration official who, according to one former colleague, took direction from Team Abramoff.
McDonnell, a Republican, announced today that Doug Domenech will be his secretary of natural resources.
During the Bush administration, Domenech served at the Department of the Interior as a liaison to the White House. In 2005, Wayne Smith, the point man at Interior for Indian casino policy, told the Denver Post (via Nexis) that Domenech would take calls from Abramoff operative Italia Federici, who would inform him of what Abramoff wanted. Domenech would then convey the message to Smith.
Said Smith: “Doug would come down and say, ‘Italia called and Jack wants this.’ That’s how it all happened internally.”
Smith added that Domenech told him “we had to pay attention to [Jack] Abramoff, because otherwise the religious right and (Ralph) Reed are going to come up and bite us, and our whole base will go crazy. They will light up our phones, shut down our phone lines.”
A Washington Post story from the following year presented a more nuanced view of Domenech’s role. On behalf of his Indian client, Abramoff was working to get Interior to block a bid by a different Indian tribe to run a casino.
One of [Christian leader James] Dobson’s top aides, Tom Minnery, wrote to [Interior Secretary Gale] Norton saying Louisiana “already has an alarming number of gaming establishments” — a letter he copied to White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. The Interior Department’s White House liaison, Doug Domenech, sounded the alarm.
“Doug came to me and said, ‘Dobson’s going to shut down our phone system. He’s going to go on the air and tell everyone who listens to Focus on the Family to call Interior to oppose the Jena compact,’ ” said a former senior Interior official, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.
It appears, then, that Domenech, as a Bush administration team player, understood that he needed to pay attention to Abramoff, and his ability to generate grassroots pressure. And Domenech worked to ensure that his colleagues at Interior got that message.
One other fun note: Domenech is the father of Ben Domenech, the conservative activist whose gig as a blogger for the Washington Post ended after three days amid allegations of plagiarism, to which he subsequently admitted.
(Ed. Note: This post has been edited from the original. While Domenech had dealings with Team Abramoff while at the Interior Department, there’s no evidence that he was a part of Abramoff’s corrupt activities. We regret any suggestion to the contrary.)