Democrats investigate transportation chief Elaine Chao over 'troubling' ethics questions

Another top Trump official has come under scrutiny for possible ethics violations while on the job.

Democratic leaders on the House Oversight and Reform Committee said Monday they’d launched a probe into “troubling” allegations against Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. One of the longest-serving officials on Trump’s Cabinet and the wife of close Trump ally Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao has been accused of improperly using her office to benefit herself and a shipping company owned by her family. 

In a letter to the secretary, Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) noted that it’s illegal for federal employees to use a public office for “the private gain of friends, relatives or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a non-governmental capacity.” 

Yet, the lawmakers ― citing earlier reporting by The New York Times and Politico ―  said of Chao: “Several reports indicate that you have used your official position to benefit Foremost Group, a shipping company owned by your father and sisters that is headquartered in New York and operates a fleet that transports materials to and from China.” 

“These reports suggest that you used your official position …. to elevate Foremost Group’s influence and status with the Chinese government,” the letter continued, adding that China had extended “hundreds of millions of dollars in low-interest loans” to the company.

According to the Times, Chao has no formal affiliation or financial stake in Foremost Group ― but she and McConnell have reportedly received millions of dollars in gifts from Chao’s father, James. McConnell has also received at least $1 million in campaign contributions from Chao’s dad and sister, Angela, Foremost Group’s chief executive.

Cummings and Krishnamoorthi said Chao has until the end of the month to hand over a slew of documents to the Oversight Committee, including copies of communications between Chao and her family members, as well as documents related to an official trip to China in 2017 that was canceled. 

Related: Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

17 PHOTOS
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao
See Gallery
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao
Elaine Chao testifies before a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be transportation secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Elaine Chao (R) sits next to her father James S.C. Chao as she arrives to testifies before a Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be transportation secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
U.S. ?Vice President Mike Pence? (L), sitting next to Transportation Secretary�Elaine Chao, speaks with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney during the first meeting of the U.S. National Space Council at the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S. October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) addresses supporters while accompanied by his wife, former United States Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, at his midterm election night rally in Louisville, Kentucky, November 4, 2014. Television news networks are projecting that McConnell will win the election. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) and his wife, former U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, greet Britain's Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, in McConnell's offices at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 19, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) shakes hands, after he ceremonially swore-in, with Vice President Joseph Biden (R) in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington January 6, 2015. Holding the Bible is McConnell's wife, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
New Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is sworn in by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) as her father, James S.C. Chao, holds a bible during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) walks as his wife Elaine Chao waves to the crowd as they walk to their polling precinct to vote at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, November 4, 2014. McConnell is running against Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his wife Elaine Chao arrive at Bellarmine University to cast their ballots during Kentucky's primary elections in Louisville, Kentucky, May 20, 2014. McConnell is running against Republican challenger Matt Bevin. REUTERS/John Sommers II (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao poses for a souvenir picture with her nephews Ben (L) and Tyler in the Brady Press briefing room of the White House in Washington, January 12, 2009 just after President George W. Bush had given his final news conference on the same stage. Chao is the only member of Bush's cabinet to have lasted his entire eight-year administration. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES)
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (L) and his wife Elaine Chao arrive for a State Dinner honoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House in Washington, June 7, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Secretary Elaine Chao, U.S. Department of Transportation, speaks at The 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Riccardo Savi/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 09: US President Donald Trump (R) participates in the 'Roads, Rails, and Regulatory Relief roundtable meeting', beside Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao (L) at the Department of Transportation on June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Elaine Chao, U.S. transportation secretary, speaks during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. Chao defended President Donald Trump's plan to remove air-traffic operations from the government Wednesday, saying the system could no longer handle growth and still maintain safety. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 18: Elaine Chao, Secretary of US Department of Transportation, and Gen. (Ret.) David Petraeus, Chairman, KKR Global Institute, attend The 2017 Concordia Annual Summit at Grand Hyatt New York on September 18, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
Elaine Chao, U.S. secretary of transportation, listens during the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S., on Monday, May 1, 2017. The conference is a unique setting that convenes individuals with the capital, power and influence to move the world forward meet face-to-face with those whose expertise and creativity are reinventing industry, philanthropy and media. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The Times said the trip had been “abruptly” axed after staffers in Chao’s department expressed concerns about the secretary’s plans in China, including inviting relatives to meetings with Chinese government officials.  

A spokesperson for the Transportation Department confirmed to The Washington Post that the department had received the committee’s letter and  looked forward to responding. 

“Media attacks targeting the Secretary’s family are stale and only attempt to undermine her long career of public service,” the spokesperson said.

The House Oversight Committee said Monday that Chao was also under investigation for her failure to divest from Vulcan Materials Co., a construction company where Chao had served on the board of directors before her appointment to Trump’s Cabinet.

Chao had promised in early 2017 to cash out her stock holdings in Vulcan by April 2018, Cummings and Krishnamoorthi wrote in their letter. But she didn’t end up selling her shares until June 2019 ― after The Wall Street Journal published a story in which she was called out for having failed to fulfill her promise.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.