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During former President Donald Trump’s transport minister, Elaine Chao repeatedly used his position and agency staff to help family members running a shipping business related to China in a potential breach of federal ethics laws. according to a report by the Inspector General.
The findings were revealed in a report by the inspector general of the Ministry of Transport, published on Wednesday, which explains in detail the service’s investigation into Chao’s dealings as secretary.
The inspector general passed the findings to the Justice Department in December 2020. But with the completion of the Trump administration, the Department of Defense refused to launch its own investigation into the matter, citing “no foresight.”
Chao, who is married to Senator Mitch McConnell, announced her resignation on Jan. 7, saying she was deeply concerned by the previous day’s mob that attacked the Capitol “in a way I just can’t put aside.” Her term was to end with the swearing in of President Biden.
The Ministry of Transport’s supervisory body launched an investigation into Chao’s actions as a secretary following news reports detailing her interactions with her family as head of the agency. This included a formal trip to China in 2017, in which her father and sister had to join her and attend high-level meetings.
But as detailed in the OIG report, Chao also assigned her employees much more than travel planning. The inside observer cited Chao for four types of ethical violations, including requiring DOT staff to assist with personal orders and marketing his father’s resume.
Oregon Parliamentary Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter Defasio and New York City Committee on Supervision and Reform Committee Chair Carolin B. Maloney also called for an investigation into Chao following initial media reports.
On Wednesday, Malone called Chao’s use of his official position and resources to help her family a “gross abuse of her office.” The congresswoman added that lawmakers should use this report as evidence of further reforms in ethics and transparency.
Questions about ethics
The OIG report did not offer a formal conclusion that Chao had violated federal ethics laws, but highlighted several cases that deserve further scrutiny, especially in situations involving the secretary’s family, the report said.
Federal ethics laws prohibit employees from using their public service for personal gain, which may mean publicity or favor from others. Employees must also act impartially and ensure that they do not offer any preferential treatment to a private organization or individual. Federal officials may not use their public office to approve a product, service, or company, or for the personal benefit of friends, family, or others.
Bye is not a beginner when it comes to the ethical rules of being an employee of a federal agency. She was previously Secretary of Labor under former President George W. Bush.
Still, during her time at Chao’s office, she dealt with issues related to her father, James Chao, who founded the shipping company Foremost Group, and her sister, Angela Chao, who runs the company.
Secretary Chao made extensive plans to involve family members in events during his official trip to China in November 2017. The route included stops at Shanghai Maritime University and Shanghai Zhao Tong University, as well as other locations supported by the business of her family.
Chao also requested, through the State Department, the Chinese Ministry of Transportation to organize two vehicles for her delegation, including her sister and father. State and transport officials raised ethical concerns about the trip, which was eventually canceled.
Bye quotes “filial piety”
The former secretary also instructed her staff to send copies of her father’s memoirs, Fearless against the wind, of a well-known, unnamed CEO of a large American company that is not regulated by its agency. She asked her staff to ask him to write the shipment for the book.
A third employee was also asked to edit the sample sent to the CEO, emails reviewed by OIG showed. Similar demands have been made to several other prominent figures, including unnamed heads of “elite” American schools, according to the report.
The Transport Public Relations Office also supported her father to help the market with his biography, maintain an up-to-date list of his awards and edit his Wikipedia page, the OIG report said.
Chao also instructed politically appointed officials to contact the Department of Homeland Security regarding the status of an application for a work permit for a student studying at an American university who is a recipient of her family’s charitable foundation.
Chao also uses agency resources and staff for small personal tasks such as checking the repair of an item at his father’s store or sending Christmas decorations to his family.
In defense of her actions, Chao’s office sent a note dated September 24, 2020, quoting “filial piety.” The note reads: “Anyone familiar with Asian culture knows that in Asian communities it is a fundamental value to express honor and filial respect for one’s parents, and this ingrained value of love, respect, and filial piety always takes precedence over self-promotion and self-improvement. -exaltation. “
It goes on to say, “As the eldest daughter, she is expected to take the lead in family cases that honor her father and her late mother.”
The OIG said that over the years, no transport staff member interviewed by investigators had felt “ordered or compelled” to perform any of the tasks assigned to them by Chao.
DeFazio criticized the timing of the OIG report, as it was published months after Chao had already resigned.
He said Wednesday, “I am even more disappointed that the Ministry of Justice has refused to continue to address the issues that the IG service has substantiated in its investigation. Public officials, especially those responsible for leading tens of thousands of other civil servants, need to know that they serve the public and not the private commercial interests of their families. “