According to a newly released report, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Transportation issued a criminal referral to the Department of Justice for ex-Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao towards the conclusion of their investigation of her usage of department resources for her personal and family benefit. The Justice Department declined to take up a case against Chao, but her behavior was egregious to the point that, amazingly, she even once asked Transportation Department staff members to help with editing her father’s Wikipedia page, which is, needless to say, not within the purview of federal authorities.
Chao is the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and she resigned from her position in the Trump administration after the January violence at the Capitol, where Trump supporters tried to forcibly stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.
The New York Times reported as follows:
’The Transportation Department’s inspector general asked the Justice Department in December to consider a criminal investigation into what it said was Elaine Chao’s misuse of her office as transportation secretary in the Trump administration to help promote her family’s shipping business, which is run by her sister and has extensive business ties with China.’
The Chao family shipping company is called the Foremost Group and “was responsible as of 2019 for a large portion of orders at one of China’s biggest state-funded shipyards, and has secured long-term charters with a Chinese state-owned steel maker,” the Times says. While in office, Chao tasked members of department staff with helping plan for an eventually cancelled trip to China in 2017, where she planned to meet with high-ranking officials and her own family members — without any other officials from the Transportation Department. In other words, Chao appears to have been intending to potentially use the weight of her position in the Trump administration for the benefit of her family’s shopping business in China.
On another occasion, the Times says, “staff members for Ms. Chao’s office were assigned in 2017 to check with the Department of Homeland Security on the status of a work permit application for a foreign student studying in the United States who had received a scholarship from a Chao family foundation.” Not only was Chao angling to use her power for the benefit of her own family members – she sought to use official channels for this family ally as well. These tasks, of course, have nothing to do with the ordinary responsibilities of the U.S. federal government, but Chao was undeterred.