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Trump cabinet member Elaine Chao may have violated ethics law, inspector general says

Graeme Massie
·3-min read
<p>Trump cabinet member Elaine Chao may have violated ethics law, inspector general says</p> (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Trump cabinet member Elaine Chao may have violated ethics law, inspector general says

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

Former president Donald Trump’s transportation secretary Elaine Chao used her position and staff to help family members who run a shipping business, according to the Office of Inspector General.

Ms Chao, who is married to Senator Mitch McConnell, was in potential violation of federal ethics laws, but despite the findings being referred to Mr Trump’s Justice Department in December 2020, no DOJ investigation was launched.

Ms Chao resigned from the administration on 7 January, the day after supporters of Mr Trump attacked the US Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s election win.

The violence led to Mr Trump being impeached for a historic second time, but he was later acquitted in his Senate trial with Mr McConnell among the 43 Republican senators who supported the ex-president. Following the vote Mr McConnell said the former president did bear responsibility for the attack but insisted it was not constitutional to convict him since he had left office.

The OIG report accuses Ms Chao of interacting with her family in her position as head of the Transportation Department.

She is accused of four kinds of ethics violations, including requiring DOT staff to help her with personal errands and also marketing her father’s biography.

The OIG report did not offer a conclusion as to whether Ms Chao broke the law, but said that the case warranted further investigation.

Democrats in Congress have now called for a probe into Ms Chao’s actions.

Congresswoman Carolyn B Maloney of New York called Ms Chao’s use of her position and resources a “flagrant abuse of her office.”

The report states that Secretary Chao planned to include family members in events during her official trip to China in November 2017.

Her itinerary reportedly included stops at a string of locations that had received support from her family’s business.

She also requested, through the State Department, that China’s Transport Ministry organised two vehicles for her delegation, which included her sister and father.

Officials at the State and Transportation departments raised concerns about the trip, which was eventually cancelled.

Ms Chao is also accused of getting staffers to send copies of her father’s book, Fearless Against the Wind, to the CEO of a major US company, and to ask him to write the book’s foreword.

DOT public affairs staff also helped her father market his book, and ran his Wikipedia page, the report states.

Ms Chao also asked political appointees at the DOT to contact the Department of Homeland Security about the work permit status of a student studying in the US who was linked to her family’s philanthropic foundation.

She is also accused of using her staff for personal errands, such as checking on the repair of an item at a store for her father, and sending Christmas ornaments to her family.

Her office defended her actions in a September 2020 memo, stating that “filial piety” was a core value of Asian culture.

“As the eldest daughter, she is expected to assume a leadership role in family occasions that honour her father and her late mother,” the memo stated.

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