Elaine Chao was briefly the Peace Corps Director, from October 1991 to November 1992. She was appointed by George H. W. Bush and held the position for about 13 months. She is famous for saying, when visiting a PCV in West Africa in the woman’s village, and seeing her mud hut, “Does your mother know how you’re living?” Chao was also well known for scheduling daily hair appointments when overseas, and for breaking down in tears when describing the conditions that PCVs lived in as Volunteers. It got so embarrassing for RPCVs listening to her laments, that they began laughing at her when she started crying. As Trump supporters would say, “Lock her up!”
Justice Department Declined to Pursue Ethics Inquiry Against Elaine Chao
Final report by inspector general shows that investigators found no wrongdoing in some of the former transportation secretary’s actions.
Elaine Chao ran the Transportation Department for nearly all of former President Donald Trump’s four-year term and is married to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.).
by Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—An ethics investigation of former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was referred to federal prosecutors for criminal prosecution last year but was closed when the Justice Department declined to investigate, according to a report released Wednesday.
Ms. Chao, who ran the DOT for nearly all of former President Donald Trump’s four-year term and is married to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.), was investigated by the agency’s Office of Inspector General for possible ethics violations.
A final report by the inspector general, released Wednesday by the leaders of the House Transportation and Oversight committees, shows that investigators found no wrongdoing in some of Ms. Chao’s actions that drew criticism during her tenure. She faced questions over whether she steered transportation grants to her and Mr. McConnell’s home state.
A spokesperson for Ms. Chao said the report “closes the book on an election-year effort to impugn her history-making career as the first Asian American woman appointed to a President’s Cabinet.”
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.
The report, however, shows that the inspector general recommended Ms. Chao be investigated by prosecutors for commingling her family’s business interests with her public responsibilities. Plans to attend official events on a government visit to China that would likely have benefited her father and the family’s shipping company, Foremost Group, drew particular scrutiny.
Investigators also found that Ms. Chao used DOT employees to run errands and perform other personal tasks, which runs counter to federal ethics rules.
According to the inspector general’s report, Ms. Chao didn’t comment on the agency’s findings; however, a memo written by the DOT’s general counsel, Steven Bradbury, described “the importance of Asian cultural values to the success and effectiveness of Secretary Elaine L. Chao.”
“If the Secretary focused only on herself in media interviews or in cultural or social interactions involving Asian communities and neglected any mention of her parents or inclusion of her one living parent, her father, with these audiences, her reputation and stature as a government official would be diminished considerably in the eyes of many Asians and Asian Americans,” Mr. Bradbury’s memo said.
The report makes clear that Ms. Chao’s inclusion of family members raised eyebrows inside the Trump administration, in particular with regard to her planned trip to China.
Asking about Ms. Chao’s plans to bring her father, her sister Angela, the CEO of the family shipping company, and Angela Chao’s husband to official meetings during the trip, U.S. Embassy officials wrote to DOT officials in Washington: “Is this correct? We want to ensure that this wasn’t a miscommunication. If this is the case, can you please provide us with a complete list of the meetings that they would attend? We would need to vet this with the State Department.”
After government officials produced an ethics memo setting limits on Ms. Chao’s arrangements for the China trip in October 2017, the trip was canceled, the inspector general found.
“The DOT Inspector General’s report, in addition to documents we obtained, demonstrate that Secretary Chao used her official position and taxpayer resources for the benefit of herself and her family,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D, N.Y.), the oversight panel’s chairwoman. “Secretary Chao’s flagrant abuse of her office provides further evidence that additional ethics and transparency reforms are needed.”
Republicans described the report as exonerating Ms. Chao.
“Democrats should abandon their unproductive and divisive obsession with attacking Trump administration officials and instead focus on doing work that actually benefits the American people,” said Rep. James Comer (R, Ky.), the oversight committee’s ranking member.
The inspector general’s report states that its findings were referred to both the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia and the Public Integrity Section at the Justice Department and that both declined to investigate. “Based on the lack of prosecutorial interest from DOJ, OIG has determined it will close this investigation,” the report said.
Ms. Chao announced her resignation on Jan. 7, following the riot at the Capitol by supporters of Mr. Trump. She formally concluded her tenure at the agency on Jan. 11 after staff were hastily summoned for a ceremonial unveiling of her official portrait at DOT headquarters, according to an official who attended.
The inspector general also investigated Ms. Chao’s retention of shares of stock in a pavement and aggregate materials company, Vulcan Materials.
The report noted that Ms. Chao’s ethics agreement, in which she had said she would be cashed out of her position in the company, wasn’t amended until after The Wall Street Journal disclosed she still owned stock in the company in 2019.
Investigators found that Ms. Chao had been recused from issues involving Vulcan and that no conflict of interest rules were violated.