Investigators noted a number of potential problems. The report said Transport Department staff were asked to help promote the elder Chaos biography and keep a list of his awards. It also noted evidence that the department’s former director of public affairs drew up and launched a media and PR strategy to build its profile.
Chao also tapped public servants for personal tasks such as arranging Christmas decorations, investigators said.
The U.S. Attorney̵
The IG office also said it had investigated allegations that Chao had mismanaged resources for Kentucky, which her husband, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) represents in the Senate, but found no evidence of.
Chao and her supporters pointed to areas where the Inspector General did not find misdemeanors as an endorsement of her approach to governance.
“This report absolves the Secretary of unfounded accusations and closes the book on an election year’s effort to impose her historic career as the first Asian American woman appointed to the president’s cabinet and her excellent record,” a spokesman for Chao said in a statement. .
The spokesman declined to comment on the potential ethical issues identified by the inspector general, pointing instead to supportive comments from Republicans in Congress, including the rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), Who in a statement said the report “makes clear the Democrats’ party attacks on former Minister Chao are baseless. ”
Investigators described a number of potential ethical issues.
As secretary, for example, Chao instructed political appointees 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 who was a recipient of Chao family philanthropy,” according to investigators.
Investigators said Chao used the staff time of the department’s employees for personal matters.
According to a description from investigators, Chao was emailing an employee of her office with the subject line: “Xmas ornaments.” The email instructed the employee to “arrange and fedex Monday to Dr. Chao and my sisters. Draft follow-up message – let me see it tells them what we’re sending. ”
Investigators also raised concerns that Chao appeared jointly on videos with his father.
Such a video raised particular concerns “because it contained the secretary talking about official matters such as the administration’s priorities for transportation as well as comments on the written biography of his father,” according to a letter from Deputy Inspector General Mitch Behm to the rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. DeFazio was among those in Congress who asked for the investigation.
He praised the General Office for its review, but said he was disappointed that it was not released while Chao was in office and that the Justice Department did not pursue the cases.
“Public employees, especially those responsible for leading tens of thousands of other public employees, need to know that they are serving the public and not their family’s private commercial interests,” DeFazio said in a statement.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (DN.Y.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, had also requested an investigation.
The Inspector General’s report and other documents obtained by congressional investigators “show that Secretary Chao used his official position and the taxpayers’ resources for the benefit of himself and his family,” Maloney said in a statement. “Secretary Chaos’ blatant abuse of her office provides further evidence that further ethical and transparent reforms are needed.”
The Inspector General’s Office said Chao, given the chance to respond to the ethical concerns, pointed to a memorandum prepared by the Department of Transportation’s general counsel, Steven Bradbury, and delivered to investigators.
The September 2020 memo was titled “The Importance of Asian Cultural Values for Secretary Elaine L. Chaos’ Success and Effectiveness.” Investigators said it was written by Bradbury and reviewed by Chao and two other employees of the department.
“As the eldest daughter, she is expected to take on a leading role in family cases honoring her father and her late mother,” the memo reads. If she neglected to mention her one living parent, “her reputation and stature as a civil servant would be significantly reduced in the eyes of many Asian and Asian Americans.”
According to investigators, Bradbury said that “Secretary Chao is inseparable from his father’s history and that this concept is important to keep in mind, but does not excuse all the issues discussed with OIG, such as the Secretary’s use of subordinates to perform personal duties. , ”According to the report published Wednesday.