Elaine Chao used position to help family, inspector general report finds

Chao allegedly used her office staff to assist in making arrangements for her father’s company, which has ties to China

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The Donald Trump administration is under scrutiny for failing to investigate former transportation secretary Elaine Chao’s abuse of power.

Chao is being accused of using her office staff to assist her in making arrangements for her father’s company which has ties to China. The investigation was referred to the Justice Department, but they declined to look into it, per The New York Times on Wednesday.

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“A formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted,” said the Transportation Department’s deputy inspector general, Mitch Behm in regards to the 44-page report that details Chao’s alleged abuse of resources.

The former secretary and wife of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky resigned the day after the Capitol insurrection but claims it was not in regards to the allegations.

“Yesterday, our country experienced a traumatic and entirely avoidable event as supporters of the President stormed the Capitol building following a rally he addressed,” wrote Chao. “As I’m sure is the case with many of you, it has deeply troubled me in a way that I simply cannot set aside.”

In 2019 the NYT reported that Chao, whose father still has connections in China, requested that her staff make business arrangements for herself, father, and sister, including a 2017 trip to the country that was later canceled.

The family owns a successful shipping company, Foremost Group. The company became so well-known Chao’s father and the founder, James Chao, was dubbed ‘Chinese Ship King.’ 

Chao oversaw the American shipping industry, which is currently suffering due to strong completion in China.

Conservatives Gather At Annual CPAC Event
NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – FEBRUARY 28: Secretary of the Department of Transportation Elaine Chao speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference 2020 (CPAC) hosted by the American Conservative Union on February 28, 2020 in National Harbor, MD. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

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But despite the conflict of interest, investigators said Chao did not violate rules or ethics.

“This report exonerates the secretary from baseless accusations and closes the book on an election-year effort to impugn her history-making career as the first Asian-American woman appointed to a president’s cabinet and her outstanding record as the longest tenured cabinet member since World War II,” read a statement from a public relations company representing Chao.

“Anyone familiar with Asian culture knows it is a core value in Asian communities to express honor and filial respect toward one’s parents,” per a memo Chao provided in September 2020. “Asian audiences welcome and respond positively to actions by the secretary that include her father in activities when appropriate.”

But Democrats aren’t sold on the reasoning and say her behavior adds to the list of ethical problems throughout the Trump administration.

“Public servants, especially those responsible for leading tens of thousands of other public servants, must know that they serve the public and not their family’s private commercial interests,” said Representative Peter DeFazio, who requested the investigation. DeFazio also serves as chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Additional critics on social media point out that Chao has a history of shady behavior.

“Let’s not forget: Elaine Chao also failed to comply with an ethics agreement promise to divest an asphalt company. She pledged that she’d get a cash payout severing her ties to Vulcan. When she got stock instead, she decided to keep it—until public pressure mounted,” wrote attorney Walter Shaub.

Despite the allegation, the Justice Department alerted the inspector general “there may be ethical and/or administrative issues to address but there is no predication to open a criminal investigation.”

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