Transportation Department Secretary Elaine Chao reportedly made a series of abnormal requests to accommodate her family members ahead of an official visit to China in October 2017. The trip was then abruptly canceled after an official at the U.S. embassy in Beijing contacted the State Department with an “ethics question” about her asks, The New York Times reported.
The requests were to have federal officials arrange travel for at least one Chao family member. She also reportedly asked to have family members in government meetings, according to emails obtained by the Times.
“She had these relatives who were fairly wealthy and connected to the shipping industry,” according to a State Department official involved in planning the visit. “Their business interests were potentially affected by meetings.”
Another State Department official, David Rank, told the Times the requests were considered “alarmingly inappropriate.” Chao reportedly cancelled the trip abruptly after the ethical questions were relayed to the State Department and the Department of Transportation via media requests from the Times and others.
A Department of Transportation spokesperson combatted the Times report and said the piece was “intentionally” misleading.
“This article demonstrates deep misunderstanding of the work of Department of Transportation and the U. S. maritime industry. Important context is intentionally missing and it implies conflicts of interest where none exist. The Secretary has been one of this country’s greatest advocates for the U.S. flag ship industry and today, the Maritime Administration has the largest operating budget in its history in no small part due to her advocacy,” the spokesperson told TPM.
It’s not the first time Chao’s ethics have been questioned in recent months. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that she still owns shares in a construction materials company she vowed to divest from. It was also revealed earlier this year that Chao — who is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — met with Kentucky politicians and business officials at least 10 times after her husband’s office made the requests.
Read the Times full report here.