Former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici admitted yesterday that in 1979, when he was 46, he had an adulterous relationship with the 24-year-old daughter of his colleague, then Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada. In a statement also released yesterday, Laxalt’s daughter Michelle said that she became pregnant as a result of the encounter, which she described as a one-night stand and a “mistake.” She said she raised the son, Adam Laxalt, now 34 years old, as a single mother.
- Jeff Sharlet
Domenici and the Laxalts are all Republicans.
By keeping their secret for all these years, as Lauren Ashburn at the Daily Beast pointed out, both Domenici, who retired in 2009 and is now 80, and Michelle Laxalt, 57, benefited.
Domenici — New Mexico’s longest-serving senator — was able to hold onto his career, including being reelected five times. Michelle Laxalt became a Washington lobbyist, head of the Laxalt Corporation, which she founded in 1984, when her son was about five years old. She also served as a staffer for Republican senators, including Ted Stevens and John Warner, and worked on the Reagan and Bush I and Bush II presidential campaigns.
Because of his extremist positions on morality, it’s likely Domenici’s career in politics would have ended if his extramarital dalliance had come to light. In the Daily Beast, Asburn points to examples of pols whose careers were recently stymied when their affairs were made public, including N.C. Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former Nevada Sen. John Ensign.
Both Sanford and Ensign are Republicans and, like Domenici, they are members of “the Family,” the infamous, high-powered Christianist cult that operates out of a house on C Street on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
The stated mission of the Family, which is also known as “the Fellowship,” is to end the separation between religion and politics — or, stated another way, to upend our current democratic republic and replace it with a theocratic oligarchy.
According to Jeff Sharlet, an investigator who infiltrated the cult and reported about it in his book, “The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” it is a fundamental tenet of the Family that God directs voters to elect its members, which means that the members are therefore anointed by God:
They believe that morality is a secular construct — that morality is something made by man for little people like us, and that if you are part of God’s chosen, as we’ve been talking about — what The Family believes that they are the sort of New Chosen by God — morality, ethics, these things don’t apply to you. That doesn’t mean that they endorse adultery, it just means that they’re not paying attention as much to it. And then you combine that to a, frankly, fairly misogynist viewpoint. They subscribe to an idea of male headship.
This is why, for example, Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma teavangelical and C Street cultist, felt no compunction about negotiating the terms for a bribe that was offered to Doug Hampton, the cuckolded husband of Sen. John Ensign’s mistress. The negotiations reportedly took place inside the C Street house.
C Streeters also routinely politicize and promote “family values,” even though the cult encourages its members to relegate their wives and families to the sidelines. “I’m always third,” the wife of a C Streeter told Jeff Sharlet.”The Fellowship comes first in my husband’s life. Then our children. Then me.” That puts these politicians’ constituents in fourth place, at best.
The diminished role of wives in the cultists lives may also serve to rationalize the members’ apparent penchant for extramarital affairs. In addition to the philandering by Sanford and Ensign, Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican cult member from Mississippi, resigned from the House in 2008 after the extramarital affair he conducted in his room in the C Street house was revealed. Another cult member, Sen. David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, was reelected in 2010, despite having been caught consorting with prostitutes.
Pete Domenici likely felt his membership in the Family gave him cover, not just to cling to his career in the Senate for 30 years, but to compound his sin of adultery with the sin of hypocrisy by casting votes, for example, to impeach Pres. Clinton over matters related to his affair with a young staffer, and in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which was purportedly meant to preserve the sanctity of heterosexual marriage by restricting gay married couples from the rights and responsibilities the federal government extends to opposite-sex couples.
The C Street cult made news in 2009 when Jeff Sharlet uncovered its ties to American evangelicals who helped foment the push in Uganda to impose the death penalty on gays.