DOJ got an official referral to open a 'criminal investigation' into ex-Sec. Elaine Chao: report

DOJ got an official referral to open a 'criminal investigation' into ex-Sec. Elaine Chao: report
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao | 7/25/17 (Official White House Photo by Evan Walker)

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the Transportation Department inspector general asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into former Secretary Elaine Chao, wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

"In a report made public on Wednesday, the inspector general said the Justice Department's criminal and public integrity divisions both declined to take up the matter in the closing weeks of the Trump administration, even after the inspector general found repeated examples of Ms. Chao using her staff and her office to help benefit her family and their business operations and revealed that staff members at the agency had raised ethics concerns," reported Eric Lipton and Michael Forsythe. "'A formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted,' Mitch Behm, the department's deputy inspector general, said on Tuesday in a letter to House lawmakers, accompanying a 44-page report detailing the investigation and the findings of wrongdoing."

"The inspector general's investigation detailed a series of instances where Ms. Chao directed her staff to spend federal government time and resources to help with matters related to the shipbuilding company and her father," said the report. "The Chao family company, Foremost Group, was responsible as of 2019 for a large portion of orders at one of China's biggest state-funded shipyards, and has secured long-term charters with a Chinese state-owned steel maker, The Times reported. Foremost's ships carry bulk cargo such as iron ore and coal, focusing on shipping those commodities to China."

"The investigators also found that she repeatedly asked agency staff members to help do chores for her father, including editing her father's Wikipedia page, promoting his Chinese-language biography, and directing two staff members from the transportation secretary's office to send a copy of her father's book 'to a well-known C.E.O. of a major U.S. corporation' to ask if he would write a foreword for the book," said the report.

Chao resigned in protest of former President Donald Trump's handling of the Capitol riot ahead of President Joe Biden taking office. The IG investigation had been ongoing for months, with the Trump administration accused of trying to replace the watchdog to produce a more favorable outcome.

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