IG Report Finds Elaine Chao Misused Her Office While Transportation Secretary

By Kurt Stolz on 3 March 2021
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Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

Former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao repeatedly misused the powers of her office to benefit her family, according toa report by the Transportation Department’s inspector general released Wednesday.

The IG’s report showed that Chao, who is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, made plans to bring family members on an official trip to China that would have included stops at two universities there that receive charitable funding from her family’s foundation and also directed public affairs staff members to help market her father’s book.

Chao’s actions raised eyebrows at the start of the Trump Administration when the American Embassy in Beijing sought advice from the State Department about an “ethics question” after her staff asked federal officials to help coordinate travel arrangements for at least one family member and to include relatives in meetings with government officials.

News of the ethics questions around the trip were first raised by the New York Times in June 2019. The trip was ultimately cancelled.

“A formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted,” said Mitch Behm, Transportation Department’s deputy inspector general, in a letter to House lawmakers that accompanied the 44-page report that detailed the investigation of Chao’s “use of public office for private gain.”

The report states that Chao directed her staff to help market her father’s book and arrange a book signing as part of the planned China trip.  Staff members were also tasked with documenting a list of his awards and editing his Wikipedia page.

Chao’s father, James Chao, founded the Foremost Group, a privately-held family-owned New York-based shipping and trading company that transported commodities such as coal and iron ore to China.

During the investigation by the inspector general, Chao refused to answer questions and instead had issued a statement that attempted to explain her motivation for planning to include her father on the trip.

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

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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