Last updated on March 5, 2021
Elaine Chao holds the (dubious) distinction of being one of the few Trump cabinet picks to hang onto office for his entire term. (OK, she resigned two weeks before the term ended, but still.) One reason for her longevity was undoubtedly her husband, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (a/k/a Moscow Mitch), whose support Trump needed — at least until the insurrection on the 6th. Chao may or may not have resigned in disgust over that insurrection (as she claimed), but it hardly mattered; by that time she’d used her cabinet office to make her already wealthy family even wealthier:
The Transportation Department’s inspector general asked the Justice Department in December to consider a criminal investigation into what it said was Elaine Chao’s misuse of her office as transportation secretary in the Trump administration to help promote her family’s shipping business, which is run by her sister and has extensive business ties with China.
The inspector general’s investigation detailed a series of instances where Ms. Chao directed her staff to spend federal government time and resources to help with matters related to the shipbuilding company and her father.
The Chao family company, Foremost Group, was responsible as of 2019 for a large portion of orders at one of China’s biggest state-funded shipyards, and has secured long-term charters with a Chinese state-owned steel maker, The Times reported. Foremost’s ships carry bulk cargo such as iron ore and coal, focusing on shipping those commodities to China.
Not surprisingly, the DOJ (at the time, also known as Trump’s personal law firm) declined:
In a report made public on Wednesday, the inspector general said the Justice Department’s criminal and public integrity divisions both declined to take up the matter in the closing weeks of the Trump administration, even after the inspector general found repeated examples of Ms. Chao using her staff and her office to help benefit her family and their business operations and revealed that staff members at the agency had raised ethics concerns.
The inspector general’s report did not find that Chao had abused her office to steer projects to Kentucky, nor that she had conflicts of interest in Vulcan Materials as had been alleged.
Based on our preliminary review, we concluded that there was not a sufficient basis to initiate a formal investigation into grant awards or the Secretary’s financial interest in Vulcan Materials. However, we concluded that a formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted. We initiated our formal investigation in December 2019, and the results of that investigation have been documented in a report of investigation. [emphasis added]
The list of potential misuses includes:
I. Evidence Relating to Potential Ethics Concerns Discovered During the Course of the Investigation
- A. Tasking Political Appointees To Contact DHS on Behalf of a Foreign Student (August 2017)
- B. Including Family Members and Personal Events in the China Trip, Which Was Later Cancelled (November 2017)
- C. Providing DOT Media and Public Affairs Support for the Secretary’s Family (2017–2018)
- C-1. DOT Media Strategy Support
- C-2. Public Affairs and Other Support at Specific Events
[14 items omitted]
- D. DOT Resources and Subordinate Time for Personal Tasks
There’s a new sheriff in town, however (or there will be if the Senate ever gets around to confirming Merrick Garland), so Chao and Moscow Mitch have some interesting times ahead, one hopes.
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