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Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao under investigation for self-dealing

2019-09-16

WASHINGTON — The House Oversight Committee is launching an investigation of Trump administration Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, probing whether she's used her office to benefit herself and her family.

Chao, who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has been accused in news reports of taking a string of actions as secretary that benefit the shipping company owned by her father and sisters, the Foremost Group.

She also has been accused of playing fast and loose with ethics requirements and promises to divest herself of investments that benefit from her department.

“The Committee is examining your misstatements of fact, your actions that may have benefitted the company in which you continued to hold shares, and your compliance with ethics and financial disclosure requirements,” Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wrote with Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill) in a letter Monday seeking information from Chao.

Specifically, the letter cites reports that Chao did numerous interviews in China with her father, including several with the official seal of the Department of Transportation. Such events helped boost the company's status and influence with the Chinese government, which has given it hundreds of millions of dollars in low-cost loans to buy foreign-flagged ships, they said.

They also point to Department of Transportation actions to cut funding for programs that promote U.S.-flagged ships, and suggest undermining those programs helps Foremost because it only owns foreign-flagged vessels. The letter also argued Chao’s moves weaken national security because the under-funded programs help the U.S. military transport equipment around the globe.

Targeting her personal finances, the committee says Chao failed to live up to her pledges to meet ethical obligations. One alleged instance was not selling her shares in Vulcan Materials Company, which depends on federal transportation projects, until the Wall Street Journal wrote about it.

A spokesperson did not answer specific charges in the letter, but provided a statement that said the department was reviewing it.

“The Department has received a letter seeking information on a variety of topics based on publicly available information and news coverage," the statement said. "We look forward to responding to the Committee’s request. Media attacks targeting the Secretary’s family are stale and only attempt to undermine her long career of public service.”

The letter is seeking information and unredacted communications on 18 different topics, It gave the Department until Sept. 30 to respond.