Trump Cabinet Sec Elaine Chao Says Grifting For Her Family Was Fine Because She's Asian. Yes, Literally.
Mitch McConnell's Wife Elaine Chao Bringing A Better Class Of Grift To The White House

Last night the Transportation Department's Inspector General released a report on Elaine Chao's many ethical oopsies while serving as Trump's Secretary of Transportation. While the report concludes that Chao, whose husband Mitch McConnell needs to keep bringing home the bacon for his Kentucky constituents, did not use her office to steer business to her home state, it is replete with events where she used her official position to support her father, Chinese-American shipping magnate Dr. James Chao. And she wasn't even subtle about it, which suggests that Chao, who also served for eight years in George W. Bush's cabinet, grokked early on that there was a new ethics sheriff in town — by which we mean NO SHERIFF AT ALL.

In addition to maintaining Dr. Chao's current CV and editing his Wikipedia page, Transportation Department officials were tasked with editing parts of his book, Fearless Against the Wind, and soliciting blurbs from prestigious academic institutions. The Department's Public Affairs staff developed a media strategy to promote the book and helped coordinate a book tour dangling the secretary's appearance to ensure prominent attendees and media coverage.

In April 2017, Secretary Chao was invited to give the keynote address at an annual gala for the International Leadership Foundation (ILF), a non-profit "that promotes the civic awareness, public service, and economic effectiveness of the Asian American Pacific Islander community." Perhaps knowing that Chao was unlikely to accept if her father wasn't included, the ILF had already requested that Dr. Chao speak at the event. But Chao pressed the organization to promote her father's book explicitly, emailing an ILF organizer, "Enable me to try to arrange Dr Chao to attend this event. I will attend and look forward to seeing you all." Later that day she emailed again, "Can you perhaps think of a role for Dr. Chao and me? Do you anticipate distributing 500 copies of his book? I hesitate to bring him to DC - although he's very enthusiastic to support you - if not a role for him? Many many thanks!"

The organization got the message. "We plan to have a backdrop of Fearless against the Wind at the private reception" the official plan for the event noted. "We plan to distribute 500 books at the event and insert special sections about Celebration of Secretary Chao as Transportation Secretary in the gala book."

For personal appearances, Chao was only supposed to use the title "The Honorable," not "Secretary." You know, in case there was any confusion about whether she was appearing in her personal capacity. Which there wasn't, since DOT staffers coordinated the entire event with Dr. Chao's employees at his shipping company Foremost. They even reached out to Chinese language media to coordinate interviews with "Dr. Chao and Secretary Chao," to take place at the DOT offices.

Just look at this shit.

On July 21, 2017, after the ILF event, the Secretary sent [Transportation Director of Public Affairs Marianne] McInerney an email with the subject line, "Can you encourage press to cover ILF." In a separate email on the same day, the Secretary directed McInerney to have an OST staffer "Print out online versions of media from yesterday" and directed then DOT Director of Operations Todd Inman to "send someone Go to Chinatown and buy newspapers: World Journal Sing Tao China Press." OIG found evidence that McInerney sent an email to various media outlets with "Dr. James S.C. Chao" in the subject line. The email indicated OST staff were "gathering stories and coverage of the ILF event for Dr. Chao." It further stated "you can contact us at any time for media interviews or comments." In addition, an OST staffer responded to the Secretary, attaching two news articles that referenced the ILF event and stated that they would also include those articles "in your FedEx."

McInerney refused to cooperate with the IG investigation. But other staffers seemed to think this was all totally fine, despite the strict prohibition on use of government employees to promote family businesses. As one told the IG, "much of the story about the life of the Secretary involves her father" and "there is a lot of overlap between the Secretary's official business with DOT and her personal life story because the Secretary previously worked for MARAD [the US Maritime Administration], she came to America on a ship, and her father owns ships."

Elaine Chao came to America on a boat, and the Transportation Department regulates shipping, so promoting her family shipping business is totally kosher!

Republicans spent the last two years screaming bloody murder because Joe Biden's fuckup son took a job in Ukraine. Here's the Secretary of Transportation giving a slideshow at Columbia University about her father's life and business — a business with massive Chinese holding which directly competes with American shipping companies — and Republicans are UP IN ARMS. Just kidding, they don't give a shit. Did Transportation officials lean on Columbia to make sure the University President was in attendance at this glorious event? You bet your ass they did!

After a Father's Day event at the US Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in 2017, Chao instructed Transportation staff to "get a photo on stage with Dr Chao with uniformed people," after which she "instructed OST staff to 'Enclose the speech Distribute only to Chinese media outlets I specified. Call them NOW and tell them we are sending a story over. They will print what press release and speech says.'"

And it wasn't just media events where Chao conscripted her staff to help her father. Sometimes you need to put some good, old fashioned muscle behind a routine customer service request.

On September 24, 2017, Secretary Chao sent an email to an OST staff member with the subject line, "Dr. Chao's [redacted]." In the email, Secretary Chao stated, [redacted]. "He bought a new [redacted] at [the store] 2 years ago. 2 years later, it has malfunctioned. was bought from [redacted] their shop. It was returned to them for repair. The estimate was 6 weeks. [Foremost Group employee] has called and some parts had not come in and it will still require 2 more weeks. This is not right. Please call [redacted] owners and ask them to expedite. I used to go into the store with Dr Chao ....tell them I am SOT." On September 30, 2017, Secretary Chao sent an email to two OST staff members, stating "please call [the store] again and check on status. Dr C still has not heard. Do they send [redacted] for repairs [redacted] [ ]? and thus have no control over how long it takes? [Second OST staffer]: If [first OST staffer] is not around, please call [store] and check on when ready."


In the spring of 2018, Chao seems to have had a "Come to Jesus" moment and cleaned up her act. The catalyst appears to have been the fallout from a planned Chinese trip where Secretary Chao was slated to make a grand tour of all her father's philanthropic endeavors, with her sister Angela Chao, Foremost's CEO, in tow. Foremosts's staff had been coordinating for months with the DOT to make sure that there was a mountain of custom official swag to distribute at every stop. (Camp David candy jars? REALLY?) The photo ops were carefully arranged and then those spoilsports at our embassy in Beijing had to go and ruin it all. Apparently they flipped their shit at the orgy of ethics violations, and then it was no more family funtimes field trip. Boooooo!

The New York Timescovered the fallout from this brouhaha extensively in 2019, which fueled the IG inquiry.

Anyway, Secretary Chao has a perfectly good explanation for all this, and it is ... that she is Chinese. NOPE, THAT'S NOT A JOKE.

On September 24, 2020, DOT General Counsel Steven Bradbury produced what the IG called "The Filial Piety Memorandum." Only he called it "The Importance of Asian Cultural Values to the Success and Effectiveness of Secretary Elaine L. Chao." Which is the kind of logical torture you'd expect from the author of the infamous 2005 "Bradbury Memo" which said that waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and slaps were perfectly legit CIA interrogation techniques.

"Anyone familiar with Asian culture knows it is a core value in Asian communities to express honor and filial respect toward one's parents, and this ingrained value of love, respect, and filial piety always takes precedence over self-promotion and self-aggrandizement," he wrote. "As the eldest daughter, she is expected to assume a leadership role in family occasions that honor her father and her late mother."

See, in highlighting her father's business, she enhances her own profile. And that benefits America! She did it for you, really.

If the Secretary focused only on herself in media interviews or in cultural or social interactions involving Asian communities and neglected any mention of her parents or inclusion of her one living parent, her father, with these audiences, her reputation and stature as a government official would be diminished considerably in the eyes of many Asians and Asian Americans.Thus, in making time for expressions of filial piety and taking advantage of reasonable opportunities to include her father in ceremonial functions, Secretary Chao enhances her reputation and advances the interests of the Department by strengthening her effectiveness as a member of the Cabinet and as a representative of the Federal Government to Asian cultural communities.

And in case you're wondering if Chao was down with that racist bullshit, she herself emphasized it in her comment to the Times, before issuing a statement through her PR firm saying, "This report exonerates the secretary from baseless accusations and closes the book on an election-year effort to impugn her history-making career as the first Asian-American woman appointed to a president's cabinet and her outstanding record as the longest tenured cabinet member since World War II."

Uh, no, not really. The IG found multiple violations of federal regulations and referred her to both the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia on December 16, 2020, and the US Department of Justice Public Integrity Section on December 17, 2020, for possible criminal charge. But HEY, SURPRISE both of these institutions declined to take any action. Thanks, Uncle Bill!

The third week of December? Gosh, did anything else happen in DC that week?


[IG Report / NYT]

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Liz Dye

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.


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