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- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is under scrutiny over travel plans for family members during an official trip to China in 2017, according to The New York Times.
- Chao’s plans reportedly included travel arrangements for at least one family member and would have allowed relatives to attend official meetings.
- They were eventually shelved following ethics concerns and an investigation led by The Times.
- According to The Times, Chao’s family has strong ties to China, where they conduct a significant amount of business through their US-based shipping company, Foremost Group.
- Chao downplayed suggestions that her duties and family’s business was connected.
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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is under scrutiny following reports of her plans to make travel arrangements for family members during an official trip to China in 2017, according to The New York Times.
A redacted email from a US embassy official was obtained by The Times and detailed "ethics questions" raised by some in the embassy.
Chao’s plans, which included travel arrangements for at least one family member and would have allowed relatives to attend official meetings, were eventually shelved following ethics concerns and an investigation led by The Times.
"This was alarmingly inappropriate," former State Department Beijing deputy chief of Mission China David Rank told The Times.
Chao’s family reportedly has strong ties to China, where they conduct a significant amount of business through their US-based shipping company, Foremost Group. The company reportedly received hundreds of millions of dollar of loan commitments from a bank affiliated with the Chinese government.
A Transportation Department spokesperson said Chao’s actions were not related to her family’s business, The Times reported.
Chao, whose duties include overseeing the US shipping industry amid the ongoing trade war with China, is reportedly not involved in Foremost Group’s day-to-day business, and has not worked for the company in decades.
However, her family contributed over $1 million to the re-election campaign of her husband, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s, The Times reported.
Chao’s sister, Angela, is the CEO of Foremost Group. Chao’s father, James, is the founder and now serves as an honorary chairman.
James, a Chinese native and longtime New York resident, was recognized by the Department of Homeland Security as someone who made "outstanding achievements" as a naturalized US citizen in 2008.
Angela, who was born in the US, graduated from Harvard Business School and previously worked at the mergers and acquisitions department of what is now Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, according to her biography. She served on various executive boards for Chinese holding companies and groups associated with the Chinese government, The Times said.
Angela denied that her company’s interests were centered on China: "We are an international shipping company, and I’m an American," Angela said to The Times.
"I don’t think that, if I didn’t have a Chinese face, there would be any of this focus on China," she added.
The Transportation Department relayed a statement from Chao to The Times.
"My parents and I came to America armed only with deep faith in the basic kindness and goodness of this country and the opportunities it offers," Chao said in the statement. "My family are patriotic Americans who have led purpose-driven lives and contributed much to this country. They embody the American dream, and my parents inspired all their daughters to give back to this country we love."
Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested Chao was another example in the numerous claims of nepotism within the Trump administration. Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner were picked to serve as senior advisers in the White House shortly after he became elected.
"Seems like Trump’s [Transportation] Secretary, Elaine Chao, has been caught trying to use her position to enrich her family’s shipping company," Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet. "Her husband has lots of sway in US laws, too: Mitch McConnell."
"At this point it might be easier to ask where in this admin there *isn’t* corruption," she added.
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