Trump Interior appointee caught buying stock in company that contracts with the agency

• Feb 06, 2018

Mark Hand, ThinkProgress

Doug Domenech, a top official at the Department of the Interior, worked as a political appointee at the agency during the George W. Bush administration when it was rife with corruption. The official is now coming under scrutiny for his own questionable actions as a Trump administration appointee.

A month after winning confirmation to serve as assistant secretary for insular affairs at the Interior Department in September 2017, Domenech purchased between $15,001 and $50,000 worth of shares in Compass Minerals, a mining company that does business with the department, Politico reported Monday. In 2017, the Interior Department, for example, paid the company $15,000 on a contract.

As assistant secretary for insular areas, Domenech coordinates federal policy for the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The office also is responsible for administering and overseeing grant assistance to the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.

Compass Minerals produces salt, potash, and fertilizers. Along with the Interior Department, the company has won contracts with the departments of Defense, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs over the past seven years. Domenech was confirmed to his position at the Interior Department on September 18 and reportedly purchased the shares in Compass Minerals in late October.

Last fall, Domenech also sold more than $15,000 in shares of Chevron. However, he still owns shares in pipeline company Enbridge Inc. and smaller stakes in pipeline company Energy Transfer Partners and refiner Valero Energy, according to Politico.

Domenech’s investments raise questions about conflict of interest and whether the Interior Department will steer contracts to these companies or implement policies that could boost the companies’ share value. Last week, Trump’s head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resigned on the heels of a Politico report that she had purchased stock in a tobacco company soon after taking her job, which oversees smoking-cessation programs.

The Interior Department had not responded to a request for comment from ThinkProgress at the time this article was published. Politico reported that Compass Minerals does not do business in the Virgin Islands or other territories that Domenech directly oversees.

Domenech’s bosses have faced serious corruption charges at each step of his career in government. Most recently, Domenech served as secretary of natural resources in Virginia under Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), where the governor was a vocal supporter of drilling off the Virginia coastline. McDonnell was convicted of public corruption charges in 2014 for receiving gifts from a political donor and was sentenced to two years in prison. But the former governor never served any time after the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the sentence.

During the Bush administration, Domenech served as White House liaison and deputy chief of staff to Interior secretaries Gale Norton and Dirk Kempthorne. An Interior Department inspector general report found that employees at the agency had received improper gifts from energy industry officials under Norton’s leadership.

Steven Griles, Norton’s top lieutenant at Interior, resigned after an investigation by the department’s Office of Inspector General concluded he had met with former clients in the fossil fuel industry in violation of an agreement he signed upon getting confirmed to deputy Interior secretary. After leaving Interior, Griles was sentenced to 10 months in prison for his role in the Jack Abramoff scandal.

In 2009, the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into whether Norton illegally used her position to steer lucrative oil leases to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the company she worked for after leaving the Interior Department. The investigators sought to determine whether Norton violated a law that bars federal employees from discussing employment with a company if the employee is involved in decisions that could benefit that company. The Justice Department ultimately declined to press charges.

As with Norton, Domenech’s top boss in the Trump administration, Ryan Zinke, is under investigation for his potential misuse of agency funds and other questionable actions. Zinke also is facing criticism for his ownership of shares in a firearms company, a financial interest he did not disclose when nominated last year, Itai Vardi reported for HuffPost.

The private Montana company, PROOF Research Inc., manufactures and sells firearms and advanced weapons materials. This previously undisclosed holding came to light after numerous decisions in his first year in office that benefited the hunting and gun industries. This included an alleged effort to silence National Park Service Acting Director Michael Reynolds’ objections to several provisions in National Rifle Association-backed legislation that would loosen regulations on hunting within park boundaries.

After leaving the Bush administration, Domenech lobbied for oil and energy companies. Prior to being named to the Trump administration, he was the chair of the Koch-funded Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) Fueling Freedom Project. The project’s goals include explaining “the forgotten moral case for fossil fuels” and ending the EPA’s regulation of carbon dioxide.

The TPPF also employs Kathleen Hartnett-White, who failed to win Senate approval to serve as head of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) due to her radical beliefs on fossil fuels and climate science. On Monday, the White House officially withdrew her nomination to lead the CEQ.

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