What happened when Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) married Elaine Chao? His shipping magnate father-in-law gave him $59 million, but that was not all. The senator found himself on the receiving end of the Secretary of Transportation Chao’s generosity.
Three leading legislators wrote to Secretary Chao that they were concerned about the removal of the Transportation inspector general, according to The Washington Post:
‘We are concerned that Mr. Behm’s removal could be an effort to undermine the progress of this investigation, which we understand is ongoing. Any attempt by you or your office to interfere with the Office of Inspector General’s investigation of yourself is illegal and will be thoroughly examined by our Committees.’
Trump announced on Friday that the head of a pipeline safety agency Howard “Skip” Elliott would be acting Department of Transportation (DOT) IG. Until then, the DOT deputy had been also filling that position.
The secretary’s office released a statement about the investigation into her inspector general and the replacement. She claimed that Trump was legally permitted to name Elliott as his acting inspector general:
‘Mr. Elliott will bring decades of valuable expertise to the role of Acting Inspector General, both in safety and in law enforcement.’
Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and two other legislators requested the inspector general investigate whether McConnell’s wife had been given preferential treatment tp her home state during her husband’s 2020 reelection campaign.
Last fall, DeFazio asked the IG to check on whether Chao influenced a grant program named Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA). Then, in December he sent a letter to the IG about the situation:
‘New information has emerged that points to a troubling pattern of potential favoritism by the Secretary and her inner circle of staff at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and has heightened my concern about these issues.’
‘[T]hat Secretary Chao’s office has degraded the ability of career staff at DOT to objectively assess the merits of grant applications.’
The House Oversight Committee has also been investigating whether she was holding to her “ethics agreement to divest” stock in the family business.
Three Democrats on the oversight panel wrote to Elliott: Gerald Connolly (D-VA), Carolyn Mahoney (D-NY), and Defazio. They said Chao should reinstate Mitch Behm, a “veteran public servant:”
‘This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.’
Trump named Elliott to the Transportation Department and removed the State Department IG Steve Linick at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s request. Elliott is a 40-year veteran of the railroad industry.
Elliott will continue to lead the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration while serving as acting inspector general. The legislators said that would be a conflict of interest.
Elliott reports to Chao, but he is independent as the IG:
‘Your dual roles threaten both the safety of our transportation system and the integrity of the DOT Office of Inspector General.’
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is the leading Democrat on a Senate subcommittee over pipeline safety. She was also concerned about the conflict of interest:
‘Acting Inspector General Skip Elliott being charged with auditing and investigating the actions of PHMSA Administrator Skip Elliott makes a mockery of the entire system of Inspectors General.’
The senator continued:
‘Trump’s haphazard approach to firing and hiring Inspector Generals is detrimental to the stability, operations and oversight of the federal government, the Department of Transportation and — most troubling — the entire concept of an accountable, transparent government.’
The Mueller Report Adventures: In Bite-Sizes on this Facebook page. These quick, two-minute reads interpret the report in normal English for busy people. Mueller Bite-Sizes uncovers what is essentially a compelling spy mystery. Interestingly enough, Mueller Bite-Sizes can be read in any order.