Elaine Chao, the Transportation Secretary under former President Donald Trump, was found guilty by the Transportation Department’s Inspector General of using the resources of her office to personally benefit herself and her family, going against Title V of the United State Code. Chao resigned from the Transportation position a day after the riot and insurrection at the American Capitol Jan. 6. She was the first cabinet member to do so, sparking a flurry of subsequent resignations.
According to her personal information and website, Chao and her family moved from Taiwan to the East Coast of the United States when she was eight years old. Her father founded a company, later to become the Foremost Group, in New York that would develop into a giant trans-Pacific private shipping company. In 1993, Chao married Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky senator who previously served as Majority Leader and is now Minority Leader. Chao was educated in business and headed multiple organizations before becoming Labor Secretary for former President George W. Bush’s entire presidency.
Some in the Transportation Department believe there were issues almost immediately regarding the use of government employees for private matters relating to their boss, Chao, and the Foremost Group. The company has repeatedly come to the aid of McConnell and also has ties to the Chinese government. Yet these questions never translated into direct action.
The internal investigation of the Transportation Department found Chao guilty, but the Trump Justice Department decided against further criminal investigation that would be legally required for proceedings to advance. Now, under the Joe Biden Administration, the intentions of the Justice Department have changed. The official accusations were for using Transportation Department employees for a private Chao family vacation to China, but the trip ended up being canceled. Because of this, it was deemed ethics rules were followed.
But later, more than 12 instances were detailed where Chao’s office acted on behalf of her father and Foremost Group. The Chaos’ story as immigrants from a turbulent Taiwan coming to make millions in corporate America has been praised by the Chinese government, and was the subject of an interview carried out using the Secretary’s office.
The official federal section–use of public office for private gain–states “an employee [of the federal government] shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relatives.”
The firm representing Chao issued its own extensive report clearing her of any misdeeds. In a later personal memo, Chao wrote on the values of her Asian culture that place helping family first, saying “it is a core value in Asian communities to express honor and filial respect toward one’s parents.”
Though the Justice Department desires to address ethical and other concerns, it has voiced no intention to open criminal investigation. Currently, the matter is for the Transportation Department to handle.