“Please be aware [the family member] is actually applying for a job at EPA,” Domenech said, according to the investigation. In an interview with investigators, Domenech described the encounter as awkward and recalled pulling the official aside and saying, "Hey, I really apologize. I did not set this up.”
The next morning, Domenech — who was nominated to his position by President Trump — sent the senior EPA official an email from his Interior Department email account. In it, he identified the son-in-law, who investigators declined to name, and added a link to that person’s website. Domenech closed the email by writing, “Let me know if we can ever be of service.” The email included Domenech’s signature block and title at that time: senior adviser, U.S. Department of the Interior.
“We determined that a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would conclude that Domenech appeared to misuse his position to endorse and promote [the family member] despite Domenech’s stated intent,” the report said. As a result, the watchdog concluded that Domenech’s actions ran afoul of ethical principle.
In a statement Friday, three Democratic committee chairmen in the House promised to follow up. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (Va.), chair of the Government Operations subcommittee, and Rep. Harley Rouda (Calif.), chair, Environment subcommittee, criticized the Interior Department’s position that the matter was addressed.
“This is the second time he violated ethics rules — despite receiving training — so the Department’s claim that the matter is resolved ... is unacceptable,” the lawmakers wrote. They expressed concern that the unnamed EPA official “ignored six different requests to be interviewed by the Inspector General.”
Last year, the inspector general issued a report that said Domenech violated ethics rules by meeting with his former employer, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, in April 2017, within a year of his employment at Interior.
Interior said Domenech’s offense occurred before the department launched an effort to build “a culture of ethical compliance” by expanding its ethics department, said a spokesman, Nicholas Goodwin. Since then, it has grown from 21 officials to 63.
But that doesn’t address the fact that Domenech had received ethics training before the concert, the lawmakers said. In the response, Goodwin did not mention what training Domenech got as a result of the expansion or how his superior addressed the assistant secretary’s behavior.
Domenech told investigator his intent in sending the email was to move the process along. Was that influencing, the investigators asked. “Well, when I think of influencing ... I guess you’re right," the assistant secretary said. "I was trying to influence the process to move along. That’s different than influencing the process to hire.”
Four days after the email, the EPA official forwarded it to the EPA employee who selected candidates and conducted interviews for the vacancy. “Do you know where this stands?” the senior official wrote. “Yes,” said a reply the next day, the agency was preparing to hire several people and Domenech’s son-in-law was one of them.
About six weeks later, Domenech sent yet another email asking if the EPA was “still interested" in hiring the son-in-law. A flurry of emails between the two ended when the EPA officials asked Domenech to tell him if the son-in-law received a call.
Domenech responded the next day: “[They] did! Thx so much.” The son-in-law and another candidate interviewed for the job in winter 2017. The EPA selecting official selected Domenech’s family member, who accepted.
“At the time of these events, Domenech was not new to Government service,” the probe said. “To the contrary, Domenech has more than 10 years of Federal service. Over those years, he received initial and annual ethics trainings. Moreover, he received two ethics trainings in the first 2 months of his arrival in 2017, both of which specifically addressed the Federal prohibitions against misuse of position.”