Updated Thursday with photo
Adam Laxalt has some serious political genes: Grandfather Paul Laxalt is a former senator and governor of Nevada, not to mention a best friend of Ronald Reagan; mother Michelle Laxalt has worked as a high-profile Washington lobbyist and cable pundit.
Now we know there’s more to the story: Retired New Mexico senator Pete Domenici, 80, announced this week that Adam is his illegitimate son.
“More than 30 years ago, I fathered a child outside of my marriage,” Domenici said in a statement to the Albuquerque Journal. “The mother of that child made me pledge that we would never reveal that parenthood, and I have tried to honor that pledge and so has she.”
But the carefully protected secret went public Wednesday, throwing the 34-year-old lawyer into the spotlight.
“I have lived my entire life as a private citizen and intend to remain one,” he told our colleague Rachel Weiner. “I plan to address personal issues privately and will not be commenting or joining any public discussion.”
Laxalt, who grew up in Alexandria and now practices law in Las Vegas, boasts an impressive résumé: Jobs with Undersecretary of State John Bolton and Sen. John Warner, then five years as a Navy officer, including a deployment to Iraq.
Recently married, the strikingly handsome lawyer is a vocal conservative who has written op-eds for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, National Review Online and American Spectator. He also appears to be a burgeoning community leader, recently named to the board of the local Catholic Charities.
All this came after a troubled adolescence. In a 1999 profile in Washingtonian magazine, Laxalt discussed his teenage alcoholism: He started drinking as a freshman at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, and hit bottom at Tulane University in hard-partying New Orleans. A family intervention helped him go straight, he told the magazine: “Looking at my grandfather, whom I respect more than anyone with the exception of my mother, and to see how disappointed I made them was real rough.” After treatment at the Hazelden center in Minnesota (“The best thing that’s ever happened to me in my life”), he transferred to Georgetown, where he got his bachelor’s and law degrees.
It is unclear whether Laxalt grew up knowing that Domenici was his father. In Michelle Laxalt’s statement to the Journal, she said that the pregnancy was the result of “one night’s mistake” and that she chose to raise Adam as a single parent. Both her father and Domenici were Republican senators at the time; she said she asked the married Domenici, who has eight other children, to keep the matter “private between the two of us.”
Very private, it seems. Even Michelle’s sister, Kathleen, said she didn’t know the identity of Adam’s father. “It was a big surprise to me,” she told us Wednesday. The subject was never discussed: “That was sort of a private thing for Michelle, and we respected that all these years.”
Also unclear: why the news emerged now, more than three decades after Adam’s birth. In their statements, both parents suggest their hand was forced. “Recently information has come to me that this sacred situation might be twisted, re-written out of whole cloth and shopped to press outlets large and small in a vicious attempt to smear, hurt and diminish Pete Domenici, an honorable man, his extraordinary wife, Nancy, and other innocents,” Michelle wrote.
Is there something going around? Last week, Rep. Steve Cohen revealed that he also had a secret child. The Tennessee Democrat raised eyebrows when he tweeted, then deleted, cutesy messages to a 24-year-old Houston woman. (“Nice to know you were watchin SOTU Happy Valentines beautiful girl. Ilu.”) After criticism from the state GOP director, the 63-year-old revealed that the woman is the daughter he learned about a few years ago after reconnecting with a long-lost girlfriend; they now have a close relationship.
Cohen told our colleague Rosalind Helderman that he had been trying to keep the secret to protect his daughter’s privacy. “It’s awful,” he said. “Bloggers and people saying nasty things. It’s disgusting.”
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