Mitch McConnell's Wife Elaine Chao Bringing A Better Class Of Grift To The White House
Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao is a classy lady. She's not going to get caught trying to buy a used Trump jizz mattress like Scott Pruitt, or grift herself a microbrewery like Ryan Zinke. She's not out there saying stupid shit on the Sunday shows like Kellyanne, or scamming charter flights like Tom Price. But Mitch McConnell's lovely wife is, after all, a part of the Trump administration, where grifting is the law of the land. And, much as it pains us to say it considering that nutter is actually suing us, Don Blankenship is right: Mitch and Elaine's "China family" is actually a problem here.
See, Secretary Chao's family owns a shipping company, Foremost Group, that is headquartered in New York but does the bulk of its business in China. As Transportation Secretary, Chao oversees the regulation of that business, and is in a position to both adjust US policy in favor of that business by, say, cutting US government subsidies of American ships which might compete with her family business, and using her public position to boost her family's business by, say, including them in meetings with Chinese government officials. Both of which she tried to do. And, hey, guess what? Elaine Chao's family gave gifts worth millions of dollars to her and her husband, and also dumped hundreds of thousands into McConnell's campaign and Republican efforts in Kentucky. FAM WE ARE SHOOK.
No, not really. In fact, the Chao-McConnell relationship got its start as a family investment venture, as the New York Times reports:
In 1989, shortly after their first date (at the Saudi ambassador's home near Washington), Mr. McConnell was preparing for a re-election campaign. Greetings from Ms. Chao came in classic Washington fashion: a string of campaign donations, totaling $10,000, from Ms. Chao, her father, her mother, her sister May and May's husband, Jeffrey Hwang, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Heckuva meet cute!
The Times has the whole complicated story, but let's start slow with the LULZ. In October of 2017, the American Embassy in Beijing reached out to ethics officials at the State Department in a panic. Secretary Chao was trying to get them to arrange travel for "a family member" -- likely her father James Chao, owner of Foremost -- to accompany her on an upcoming official trip to China, and to arrange for another family member -- likely her sister Angela Chao, Foremost's CEO, who was already in China -- to attend official meetings with the Chinese delegation. Facetime with Chinese officials, especially sitting next to a representative of the US government, would be a valuable commodity for the Chao family. Sadly, the entire trip was canceled after the New York Times started nosing around, but not before leaving a 1,300-page paper trail which the paper got via FOIA.
Looks like Mrs. C. went to A LOT of trouble to make sure everything would be just perfect for her official Transportation Department family meeting with Chinese bigwigs, down to the specially designed luggage tags and White House swag to hand out to special friends. Camp David candy jars? REALLY?
Nice to have a Cabinet secretary be so thorough! Would that Secretary Chao had been so thorough in her disclosures to Congress during her confirmation hearing when she just plum forgot to mention her family's extensive ties to the Chinese shipping industry and multiple honoraria from Chinese universities and the Chinese government. Ooopsie! (Although, we're guessing Mitch McConnell, who refused to recuse himself from his own wife's confirmation vote, was already familiar with her ties to China.)
The official redacters were also quite thorough when they went over the Transportation Department emails in response to the Times's FOIA request. But they did goof up one time and leave the fax number for Foremost, which participated in planning Secretary Chao's trip.
And Scott Pruitt got shitcanned for grifting a cheap condo rental from Energy Department lobbyists!
Taken in this light, Secretary Chao's repeated attempts to cut subsidies for America's maritime industry -- many of which, in fairness, were driven by the White House and rebuffed by Congress -- raise at least the appearance of impropriety. Unlike her appearances on Chinese state television for interviews seated next to her father in front of the US Transportation Department's flag, which are inappropriate on their face. And in case you were wondering if the Chinese government received the message, the Times reports that, "A government-owned publisher recently printed authorized biographies of her parents, releasing them at ceremonies attended by high-ranking members of the Communist Party." And China's Export-Import Bank has extended a $300 million line of credit to Foremost.
It's good to have friends in high places!
But wait, there's ALWAYS more. Politico reported this morning that Secretary Chao has been making special efforts to ensure her husband gets to bring home the bacon to his home state of Kentucky. Does your state have a special liaison to the Transportation Department to make sure that local projects get federal dollars? No? Well, sorry for your bad luck! Maybe your senator should have thought to marry the Secretary of Transportation then, huh?
Chao and her chief of staff Todd Inman, a native of Owensboro, Kentucky, have shepherded through $78 million in grants in the lead up to McConnell's upcoming re-election campaign. They aren't even trying to hide the corruption, with McConnell taking credit for a Transportation grant to upgrade the highways in Owensboro. Politico reports:
"How about that $11 million BUILD grant?" McConnell asked the crowd rhetorically, according to the Owensboro Times. He then recalled his role in securing earlier grants to the city, adding, "It's done a lot to transform Owensboro, and I was really happy to have played a role in that."
McConnell's role — along with Chao's and Inman's — was also celebrated by local officials when the $11.5 million grant was approved — to much local fanfare in December 2018. "Firstly, we are thankful that we had such good associations built with Sen. McConnell and the U.S. Department of Transportation because without them it wouldn't have happened," declared Owensboro Mayor Tom Watson, standing alongside three other local officials at a news conference celebrating the grant award.
"We're just really grateful and thankful to Sen. McConnell and Secretary Chao and our own Todd Inman," added [chief executive of Daviess County, Al] Mattingly.
Chao also approved $67 million in Transportation funds to upgrade the roads in Boone County, Kentucky, after being personally lobbied by the County Judge/Executive. Looks like Republicans' hatred of federally financed political campaigns is ... situational.
Drain the swamp, right boys? RIGHT?
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.