Revealing a 30-year-old family secret, retired U.S. Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) acknowledged that he fathered a son outside his marriage with the daughter of former U.S. Sen. and Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt.
In a story published Wednesday in the Albuquerque Journal, the 80-year-old Domenici said he and onetime Republican lobbyist Michelle Laxalt of Alexandria, Va., are the parents of Las Vegas attorney Adam Paul Laxalt. Both said they decided to announce their secret because they believed someone else was about to make the news public.
"More than 30 years ago, I fathered a child outside my marriage," Domenici said in his statement to the newspaper. "I deeply regret this and am very sorry for my behavior. I hope New Mexicans will view that my accomplishments for my beloved state outweigh my personal transgression."
In her statement, Michelle Laxalt said she agreed to keep the birth secret for fear of harming the political careers of Domenici and her father. Both she and Domenici said they came forward because they feared the news might be revealed as a political attack against Domenici.
"One night's mistake led to pregnancy more than 30 years ago," Michelle Laxalt said in her statement. She said she chose to raise her son as a single parent.
Neither Domenici nor Michelle Laxalt said who they believed planned to publicize the information.
Domenici apologized in his statement for the hurt and disappointment he had caused his wife, Nancy, and the couple's eight children. He said he disclosed the situation to his family several months ago.
Reached at her Washington home Wednesday, Nancy Domenici said neither her husband nor Michelle Laxalt planned to make any further public statements.
"Both he and Michelle have written all that they believe needs to be said, so Adam can get along with his life," she said.
"This way, any kind of rumors that might have occurred have been laid to rest. When things are secret, you never know how they might be portrayed by whom," Nancy Domenici said.
The retired New Mexico senator told the Journal that Adam Laxalt helped draft his statement, but did not say whether the two had a personal relationship.
A woman who answered the phone at Adam Laxalt's law office said that he had no comment.
Some political experts in New Mexico say the news probably won't affect Domenici's political legacy.
"But it might affect his reputation in New Mexico and Washington, D.C.," said Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling, an independent New Mexico polling firm.
"These things become less and less shocking as frequency increases in D.C. and across the nation," Sanderoff said. "People are talking about it, but more so as a personal tragedy that has hurt both families."
Domenici was the longest-serving senator in New Mexico's history. In his six terms he championed insurance coverage for mental health. He stepped down in 2009 for medical reasons.
According to a website for the Las Vegas firm Lewis and Roca, attorney Adam Laxalt is a former U.S. Navy officer who served in Iraq. He also worked for then-Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), the website says.
Michelle Laxalt, who worked for several U.S. senators but never for Domenici, indicated in her statement that she believed others might soon reveal the relationship.
"Recently information has come to me that this sacred situation might be twisted … 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 Laxalt said. "Why, after more than 30 years, would anyone insinuate pain and ugliness where joy and beauty have presided?"