Fmr. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao Accused of Corruption

Peter Sloniewsky, Staff Writer

In the first major corruption strike back against the remnants of the former Trump Administration, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has been accused of utilizing her President-appointed position over the last three years to enrich her family.
Chao, the spouse of Senate Minority Leader McConnell, funneled money to Kentucky, the state he represents, throughout her time in office. Chao reportedly gave outsized time and grant funding to the state as transportation secretary, and the new Department of Transportation has opened a probe for her pattern of bias. In fact, Chao stalled repairs to the Gateway tunnel, a vital piece of decades-old infrastructure on the Eastern Seaboard, with no valid explanation while pouring money into projects in Kentucky.
In addition to blatant favoritism of her husband’s state, the former transport secretary has also come under fire for her usage of political office to enrich herself,  and is now facing potential violations of several disclosure, financial diversification, and conflict-of-interest laws. The House Oversight Committee is investigating Chao for breaking her promise to divert money from Vulcan Materials, which sells materials used to build roads, which is a clear conflict of interest. In addition, federal ethics laws bar employees from using their public office for private gain, yet, during her time at the DOT, her office handled matters related to her father (who founded shipping company Foremost Group) and her sister, who runs the company. During a 2017 trip to China, Chao made extensive plans to include family members in events, such as stopping at locations that had received support from her family business, attempting to arrange vehicles for her sister and father in her delegation, and directing staffers to market copies of her father’s book. She also used agency resources for small tasks, such as sending Christmas ornaments for her family and sending staffers to do personal errands.
While the Inspector General of the Transportation Department sent the investigation to the Justice Department in December 2020, the DOJ declined to open its own investigation, and Chao resigned on January 7 after the riot at the Capitol. Overall, despite this blatant corruption and this obvious conflict-of-interest and ethics violations, it is unlikely that Chao and her family will ever face the law for her actions.