DOJ declined to take up Chao ethics probe

The Department of Justice declined to take up an ethics probe into former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, according to watchdog report released Wednesday by House committee leaders.

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) released a report from the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) regarding a 2019 ethics investigation into whether Chao used her former position to help her and her family.

The lawmakers requested the probe into Chao, who is married to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in 2019 after media reports raised questions about how she used her position.

The OIG referred its findings to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, which declined to open a criminal investigation. The Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section also declined to open an investigation. 

DeFazio said in a statement that he was “disappointed” that the OIG didn’t finish the investigation while Chao was in office, and that DOJ declined to take up the investigation.

“Public servants, especially those responsible for leading tens of thousands of other public servants, must know that they serve the public and not their family’s private commercial interests,” he said.

Among the ethical concerns, the report says that Chao told her staff to contact the Department of Homeland Security about the status of a work permit application submitted by a foreign student studying at a U.S. university. The student was a recipient of Chao family philanthropy.

The report also found that Chao included family members and personal events in her planned trip to China in 2017, which included stops to locations that received support from her family’s business.

The trip was canceled in November 2017, but the report revealed that trip raised ethics concerns.

The report further found that Chao provided the department’s public affairs and media support to her father, and used agency resources for tasks that “appeared to be personal in nature.” 

Chao resigned on Jan. 11, days after a mob of then-President Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol seeking to force Congress to halt certification of President Biden’s Electoral College victory.  

“The DOT Inspector General’s report, in addition to documents we obtained, demonstrate that Secretary Chao used her official position and taxpayer resources for the benefit of herself and her family,” Maloney said in a statement.  “Secretary Chao’s flagrant abuse of her office provides further evidence that additional ethics and transparency reforms are needed.”

Tags Carolyn Maloney Department of Transportation Donald Trump Elaine Chao Joe Biden Mitch McConnell Peter DeFazio

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