Investigators identified a range of potential problems. The report says transportation department staff have been asked to help promote Elder Chao’s biography and maintain a list of his awards. He also noted evidence that the ministry’s former director of public affairs had drafted and launched a media and public relations strategy to build an image.
Chao also hired officials for personal tasks such as arranging Christmas decorations, investigators said.
The US attorney’s office “has stated that there may be ethical and / or administrative issues to be resolved, but there is no prediction to open a criminal investigation,” investigators from the office said. Inspector General.
The IG office also said it had looked into allegations that Chao misdirected resources to Kentucky, which her husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) represents in the Senate, but did not find any evidence about it.
Chao and his supporters highlighted areas where the inspector general did not find wrongdoing such as endorsement of his approach to governance.
“This report exonerates the secretary of baseless accusations and closes the book on an election year effort to attack her historic career as the first Asian American woman appointed to a president’s cabinet and her outstanding record.” , a spokesperson for Chao said in a statement. .
The spokesperson declined to respond to potential ethical issues identified by the Inspector General, instead highlighting favorable comments from Republicans in Congress, including Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), Who said in a statement that the report “is clear the Democrats’ partisan attacks on former Secretary Chao are baseless.
Investigators described a series of potential ethical issues.
As secretary, for example, Chao instructed political appointees to contact the Department of Homeland Security regarding “the status of a work permit application made by a foreign student studying at an American university who was recipient of the Chao family’s philanthropy, ”according to investigators.
Investigators said Chao was using the staff time of department employees for personal matters.
Among them, according to a description from investigators, Chao emailed a staff member in his office with the subject line: “Christmas Ornaments.” The email instructed the staff member to “sort and fedex Monday to Dr Chao and my sisters.” Please write a cover note – let me see it telling them what we are sending. “
Investigators also raised concerns over Chao appearing jointly on videos with his father.
One of those videos raised particular concerns “because it featured the secretary speaking on official issues such as the administration’s transportation priorities as well as comments on his father’s written biography,” according to one. letter from Assistant Inspector General Mitch Behm to Representative Peter. A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. DeFazio was among members of Congress who called for the investigation.
He praised the Inspector General’s Office for its review, but said he was disappointed that he had not been released while Chao was in office and that the Justice Department had not pursued the case.
“Public servants, especially those charged with leading tens of thousands of other public servants, need to know that they are serving the public and not the private business interests of their families,” DeFazio said in a statement.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, also called for the investigation.
The Inspector General’s report and other documents obtained by congressional investigators “demonstrate that Secretary Chao used her official position and taxpayer resources for the benefit of herself and her family,” said Maloney in a press release. “The blatant abuse of her office by Secretary Chao provides further evidence that further ethics and transparency reforms are needed.”
The Office of the Inspector General said Chao, having had the opportunity to address ethical concerns, referred to a memorandum drafted by Department of Transportation attorney general Steven Bradbury and provided to investigators.
The September 2020 memo was titled “The Importance of Asian Cultural Values to the Success and Effectiveness of Secretary Elaine L. Chao”. Investigators said it was written by Bradbury and edited by Chao and two other department staff.
“As the oldest daughter, she is expected to take a leadership role in family occasions that honor her father and late mother,” the memo read. If she neglected to mention her only living relative, “her reputation and stature as a government official would be greatly diminished in the eyes of many Asians and Asian Americans.”
Bradbury, according to investigators, said that “Secretary Chao cannot be separated from her father’s story and this concept is important to keep in mind, but does not excuse all the issues discussed with the OIG, such as the secretary’s use of subordinates to perform personal tasks, ”according to the report released Wednesday.