Former U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has been accused of violating federal ethics rules but won’t face charges, according to a report released on Wednesday
According to the Office of Inspector General report, Chao used her position as head of the Department of Transportation in the Trump administration to benefit her family’s shipping business in a way that is an apparent violation of federal ethics requirements.
The report dismisses some of the complaints leveled against Chao, including an accusation that she worked to unfairly distribute $100 million in DOT grants to Kentucky to benefit husband Senator Mitch McConnell’s political career.
However, the report did find merit in accusations of unethical behavior by Chao in using DOT resources to support her family and their international shipping business Foremost Group.
From the report:
During the course of its investigation, OIG discovered evidence relating to potential ethics concerns arising from the actions of the Secretary and Office of the Secretary (OST) staff under her direction. The facts underlying potential ethics concerns include:
a) tasking OST political appointees to contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the status of a work permit application submitted by a foreign student studying at a U.S. university who was a recipient of Chao family philanthropy,
b) including family members and personal events in the Secretary’s planned, but subsequently cancelled, trip to China in November 2017,
c) providing DOT Public Affairs and media support to the Secretary’s father, and
d) using DOT resources and OST staff time for tasks for the Secretary that appear to be personal in nature.
When asked to comment on the accusations, Chao has denied wrongdoing and pointed to a September 24, 2020, memo regarding “filial piety.” The memo states, “Anyone familiar with Asian culture knows it is a core value in Asian communities to express honor and filial respect toward one’s parents, and this ingrained value of love, respect, and filial piety always takes precedence over self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.”
In December 2020, the OIG investigators turned over their findings to the Department of Justice for a possible criminal investigation but the agency did not express interest in prosecution:
“On December 16, 2020, OIG referred this investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), United States Attorney’s Office (USAO) for the District of Columbia, for criminal prosecution. The USAO declined to open a criminal investigation on this matter. The USAO stated that there may be ethical and/or administrative issues to address but there is not predication to open a criminal investigation … Based on the lack of prosecutorial interest from DOJ, OIG has determined it will close this investigation.“
Chao left her position as Transportation Secretary the day after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, pointing to her disapproval over how the violent siege was handled by the Trump administration.
You can view the full OIG report here.