Corruption inside the Trump administration continues to prove itself an epidemic, as official after official show themselves as not exactly prioritizing their government work over personal financial enrichment to the point of past precedent, including that set down by the law. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who also served in the Bush administration and is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has been revealed to still have a financial stake in a construction materials company that she at one point pledged to give up more than a year ago.
She’d served on Vulcan Materials Co.’s board for about two years, and she received deferred compensation for that work in the form of shares in the company in April 2018, which in the time since, have risen in value by nearly 13 percent, netting a gain of more than $40,000 for the Transportation Secretary. In 2017 before her confirmation, Chao said that she would receive a cash payout in April 2018 when the time came for her compensation from Vulcan Materials and not the financial stake in the company, which is now worth about $400,000.
Former Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub shared:
‘If you look at her ethics agreement, it provides for a complete disentanglement of her interest from Vulcan Materials, and that’s what was represented to the Senate. For the head of the DOT to have a financial interest in an asphalt company, that is not sending a message to employees of DOT that she is making ethics a priority.’
A Transportation Department spokesperson justified the change of plans by claiming that the original ethics agreement Chao signed was “flawed” because the “policy” at Vulcan was to pay out the stock, not cash. In other words, for Chao, that private corporate policy came before or at least at the same level of importance as an ethics agreement that she signed as part of negotiations with the United States Senate — not a good look, to put it lightly. Breaking with precedent, she’s recused herself from matters involving Vulcan, but she’s still reaping those financial benefits although the department’s top ethics official has reportedly determined that she’s not wielding an illegal conflict of interest under the apparent current arrangement.
Chao has faced similar questions of possibly using her position for financial gain before. Earlier in her tenure, she appeared alongside her father in a number of interviews for Chinese-language media, including at the Transportation Department itself. They were speaking in light of a biography that had been completed chronicling her dad’s life, which the Chaos would receive no financial benefit from — but the problem is, Elaine’s father James owns a shipping company called the Foremost Group. The clear visible association of James Chao with the United States government via his daughter could have financial benefits for the company thanks to a credibility boost, which again blurs the previously set ethical lines that are supposed to mark the federal government.
Chao is one of a number of Trump officials who’ve faced similar scrutiny; former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke even had a matter referred to the Justice Department in which he could have been criminally liable for benefiting from a land with Halliburton deal back in his native Montana. It’s all part of a troubling trend.
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