The Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has published a report accusing Trump’s former Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao of misusing the public office for personal purposes.
The case was referred to the Department of Justice (DoJ), which has declined to investigate the matter. Chao, who is married to Senate Minority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell, resigned from her post after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. She said that the incident left her “deeply troubled.”
The report was made by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Democrat Carolyn Maloney and Transportation Committee Chairman Democrat Peter DeFazio. The OIG investigation into Chao’s activities was requested in 2019 by lawmakers who were suspicious that the minister was abusing her post privileges.
The report provides numerous examples of such abuse. Chao used her agency’s staff members to do chores for family members. For instance, she instructed staff to edit her father’s Wikipedia page, promote his biography, send his book to the CEO of a major American company, and send Christmas ornaments to her family.
In 2017, Chao planned to include family members during a proposed visit but eventually canceled the official trip to communist China. The schedule included visits to two universities, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Shanghai Maritime University, which received funds from her family’s charity.
Political appointees were tasked with contacting the Department of Homeland Security about an international student’s work permit status who received the benefits from her family’s foundation.
In a memo sent last September, Chao defended her actions as ‘filial piety.’ She said that taking care of family members is part of Asian culture and values. As a devoted daughter and sister, she only fulfilled her family obligations.
Chao allegedly has deep ties with communist China due to her father’s shipping business, the Foremost Group. The company’s current Chief Executive is Chao’s sister.
The Trump administration unwilling to investigate Chao criminally
In the final weeks of the Trump administration, the OIG conveyed their findings to the DoJ and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Both departments showed no interest in opening criminal investigations against Chao.
None of the Transportation Department employees questioned by the OIG said they felt coerced by Chao to do any of the personal tasks assigned to them. DeFazio criticized the DoJ for not pursuing the matter further.
“The DOT Inspector General’s report, in addition to documents we obtained, demonstrate that Secretary Chao used her official position and taxpayer resources for the benefit of herself and her family… Secretary Chao’s flagrant abuse of her office provides further evidence that additional ethics and transparency reforms are needed,” Maloney said in a statement.
Some Republicans expressed dissatisfaction with the report, which they believe exonerate Chao from any wrongdoing. Republican James Comer asked Democrats to abandon their “unproductive and divisive obsession” of attacking officials from the Trump administration. He advised them to focus on the needs of the American people instead.
“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,” a spokesperson for Chao told CNN.