Report: IG Faults Elaine Chao Over Ethics Concerns But No Official Inquiry Made

Elaine Chao
Elaine Chao

The Inspector General has asked the Justice Department to investigate former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao last year over concerns that she misused her office but the request was rebuffed, reports said.

The Associated Press reported that the IG had found that Chao used her staff and office for personal tasks. She also allegedly used the department to  promote a shipping business owned by her father and sisters, which is in violation of federal ethics rules.

The AP report noted however that when the inspector general’s office referred its findings to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and prosecutors at the Justice Department who focus on public integrity cases, both declined to bring charges.

In a letter to lawmakers, deputy inspector general Mitch Behm said, “A formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted.” 

Chao, who is married to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, resigned after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The former Transportation secretary has denied wrongdoing. She had provided a September 2020 memo that said promoting her family business was an appropriate part of her official duties at the department. Their shipping company does substantial business with China, the report noted.

“Asian audiences welcome and respond positively to actions by the secretary that include her father in activities when appropriate,” that memo said.

“Above all, let’s keep (the Secretary) happy,” one of the department’s employees wrote to another staffer regarding Chao’s father. “If Dr. Chao is happy, then we should be flying with a feather in our hat.”

Moreover,  Chao was also said to have directed the department’s public affairs staff to assist her father in the marketing of his personal biography and to edit his Wikipedia page, even asking staff to check on repairs of an item at a store for her father.

The IG report said Justice Department officials had declined to take up a criminal review and noted that there “may be ethical and/or administrative issues” but there’s no evidence to support possible criminal charges.

The inspector general’s office said it has decided to close its investigation “based on the lack of prosecutorial interest” from the Justice Department.