Emails Reveal New Contacts Between Trump Official And Former Employer

UNITED STATES - APRIL 4: Clean Water Funds "Swamp Creature" returns to the Senate for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup of David Bernhardts nomination to be Secretary of the Interior on Thursday, Apri... UNITED STATES - APRIL 4: Clean Water Funds "Swamp Creature" returns to the Senate for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee markup of David Bernhardts nomination to be Secretary of the Interior on Thursday, April 4, 2019. The group is protesting Bernhardt's ties to the oil and gas industry. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) MORE LESS
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New emails show just how frequently a Trump official was in touch with his former employer, a right-wing advocacy group, in the early days of the new administration.

The Trump official’s two in-person meetings with a lawyer from the group were already the subject of an ethics probe, but the emails, obtained via a public records request by Pacific Standard magazine, show just how far the official went to help his former colleagues.

“Keep fighting,” Trump political appointee Doug Domenech emailed a Texas Public Policy Foundation lawyer in May 2017, referring to a lawsuit TPPF had brought against the government. The Koch-funded advocacy group frequently sues the EPA and other agencies, including the Interior Department, where Domenech is the assistant secretary for insular and international affairs.

A month earlier, Domenech had met twice with the TPPF lawyer, Rob Henneke. They discussed two matters that happened to be the subjects of two TPPF lawsuits against DOI agencies.

The first, concerning a land dispute along the Red River, was settled within a few months. TPPF called the settlement “a major win.”

The other, an effort to de-list the Bone Harvestman Cave Spider from the Endangered Species Act, was the subject of Domenech’s “keep fighting” email to Henneke and is ongoing.

A DOI spokesperson had previously told the magazine that Domenech and Henneke’s meetings had been “primarily social in nature,” but PS mag’s emails appear to show something else.

For one thing, it wasn’t just Domenech and Henneke meeting: Also said to be present, according to Domenech’s email to Henneke a couple days beforehand, were several high-ranking DOI officials including then-Acting Deputy Secretary Jim Cason.

Also, those meetings weren’t the only interactions Domenech had with his former employer. On several occasions, the emails show, he helped TPPF out.

For example, after TPPF requested public records from the Interior Department and came up empty handed, the emails indicate TPPF’s Henneke reached out to Domenech for help. Domenech, it appears, pointed him in the right direction.

In a June email in which he CC’ed Domenech, Henneke emailed DOI’s acting solicitor Daniel Jorjani and noted, “Dan, Doug suggested that I reach out to you on this.”

The next month, Henneke reached out to Domenech again, this time to introduce an official from the Texas General Land Office, which was part of the Red River suit alongside TPPF. The Texas official, Kaleb Bennett, wanted a meeting at DOI “to discuss the Red River.”

Domenech again passed it off to Jorjani, cc’ing him and responding to Bennett: “he is better suited to take the meeting.”

“I am happy to attend,” Domenech told Jorjani separately, “but, as far as I know, we the Department is in litigation over this issue with my former employer, TPPF, as the plaintiff.”

Neither DOI nor TPPF responded to TPM’s requests for comment Wednesday.

In April, the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General confirmed that it was conducting an investigation “into potential ethics violations committed by multiple Department of the Interior senior executives.” Domenech, whose meetings with Henneke had been revealed by a previous records request from Pacific Standard and The Guardian, was one of them.

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