The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General formally investigated former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao for potential ethics violations and abuse of her position – and ultimately referred the case for criminal prosecution to the end of 2020.
The Inspector General’s investigation focused, among other things, on how Chao – who is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – may have helped his family’s shipping company, Foremost Group, which does important business in China, according to a report released this week.
Foremost Group is run by his father, James SC Chao, and his sister, Angela Chao. Neither Elaine Chao nor McConnell as a financial holding of the company, based on publicly available information and financial disclosure forms.
The Inspector General’s investigation uncovered evidence “relating to possible ethical issues arising from the actions” of Chao and certain members of his staff “under his direction”, including:
- Involve family members and personal events in his trip planned but canceled in November 2017 to China;
- Provide public affairs and media support from the transport department to his father;
- Request politicians to contact the US Department of Homeland Security regarding a work permit application from an overseas student who received philanthropic support from the Chao family and interviewed Chao’s father for the purpose of sharing “Its history with Chinese millennials”;
- Devote departmental resources and staff time to tasks for Chao “which appear to be of a personal nature”.
Regarding the abortive visit to China, the inspector general’s report indicates, among other things, that personnel from the transportation department “organized logistical support” for Chao’s family members who were to join her on the trip. The report also states that some events in the preliminary itinerary appear to be related to his family’s shipping company or a Chao family foundation.
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As for the media support provided to Chao’s father, the inspector general’s report said it included cases in which department staff “had been tasked to help promote” his biography.
The Inspector General’s office determined at the end of 2019 that a formal investigation was warranted into Chao’s possible abuse of his post in the administration of former President Donald Trump, according to a letter the Inspector General Deputy Mitch Behm sent this week to the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Transport and Infrastructure Committee.
The results of the ensuing investigation were sent to the District of Columbia’s Office of the Attorney General and the US Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section in December 2020, but the two agencies declined to pursue the case. , according to Behm.
The US attorney’s office said there “may be ethical and / or administrative issues to resolve, but there is no prediction to open a criminal investigation,” the report said.
The Inspector General’s office offered Chao an opportunity to speak out on the ethical issues he was investigating, but was told she had nothing to add other than a previous memorandum that said: “No matter how successful she has been in her own career, Secretary Chao, like many Asian Americans, has never forgotten her Asian immigrant roots and the appreciation she feels. for his parents, who worked so hard and sacrificed so much … “
The memo also stressed that showing respect for one’s parents is an important value in Asian communities and said that Chao “values her reputation and advances the interests of the Department by enhancing her effectiveness … as a government representative. federal with Asian cultural communities “. by publicly expressing filial piety and by “taking reasonable opportunities to include one’s father in the ceremonies.”
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She was appointed transportation secretary in early January, shortly before her term ended, following the violent pro-Trump riot on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, which she called an “all-out event. absolutely preventable “and said in a statement:” As I’m sure many of you do, this has deeply troubled me in ways that I just can’t put aside. “
The Inspector General’s office determined at the end of 2019 that there was not a sufficient basis to formally investigate federal grants allocated to Kentucky during Chao’s tenure as head of the Department of Transportation. (Kentuckians’ access to Chao had been examined in the past.)
Journalist Reach Morgan Watkins: 502-582-4502; [email protected]; Twitter: @ morganwatkins26.