When Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) married Elaine Chow, his father-in-law gave him millions of dollars as a wedding gift. She comes from an extremely wealthy New York-based shipping family, so it is no surprise that she ended up as one of the very rare women around Trump as Transportation Secretary.
How did she keep her family business separate from her work? After all, she was responsible for developing and coordinating the policies surrounding the nation’s transportation system. As such, she has had to consider national security, the environment, and the nation’s needs.
Chao has eleven agencies under her watch. These include the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the highway system, the rail system, and the shipping system. California alone has 11 ports, but the country also has a brisk shipping industry away from the two oceans, on the Great Lakes.
An official from the American Embassy in Beijing sent an urgent message with an “ethics question” for a State Department official. The official responded on October 19, 2017, according to The New York Times:
‘I am writing you because Mission China is in the midst of preparing for a visit from Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.’
Chao’s office had made some very odd requests for her visit to China that sent up red flags. She wanted the federal officials to help manage one of her family member’s travel arrangements. She also wanted her relatives included in the offical meetings between the U.S. and China’s government.
Her family’s shipping company has been deeply tied to the top Chinese government officials in its government. After the ethics question came up, especially in the press, Chao canceled the trip.
A State Department official involved in the arrangements had this to say about the visit:
‘She had these relatives who were fairly wealthy and connected to the shipping industry. Their business interests were potentially affected by meetings.’
The State Department must have been very concerned given the unusual requests by Chao. A second State Department official David Rank found out about it after he left his job as deputy chief of mission in Beijing in 2017. He said:
‘“This was alarmingly inappropriate.’
Angela Chao said her company’s board positions were nothing special. She did add that Foremost was an international business. However, she did not agree that the company had a “China focus:”
‘We are an international shipping company, and I’m an American. I don’t think that, if I didn’t have a Chinese face, there would be any of this focus on China.’
Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) has opposed the budget cuts. His district contains one of the biggest cargo ports in the country.
‘The Chinese government is massively engaged in maritime expansion as we have walked away from it. There is going to come a crisis, and we are going to call upon the U.S. maritime industry, and it is not going to be around.’
The Transportation agency provided a written statement from Chao:
‘My parents and I came to America armed only with deep faith in the basic kindness and goodness of this country and the opportunities it offers. My family are patriotic Americans who have led purpose-driven lives and contributed much to this country. They embody the American dream, and my parents inspired all their daughters to give back to this country we love.’
Anti-corruption expert from the Washington University in St. Louis Kathleen Clark said:
‘This is a family with financial ties to a government that is a strategic rival. It raises a question about whether those familial and financial ties affect Chao when she exercises judgment or gives advice on foreign and national security policy matters that involve China.’