Trump's Transportation Secretary Had Staffers Edit Dad's Wikipedia Page and Help Tout His Biography: Investigators

A newly released government report details how Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary under President Donald Trump and the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, used her office for personal tasks for herself and her family.

The Department of Transportation's inspector general's office did not draw a conclusion on whether Chao, 67, violated ethics guidelines — though investigators reiterated the government's standards that "employees shall not use public office for private gain," while detailing, among other examples, how Chao used her office to help with tasks for family, who run a private shipping company.

The inspector general began investigating in 2019.

The resulting report, released Tuesday, cites instances in which Chao, who previously oversaw the Labor Department under George W. Bush, asked government staffers to help promote her father's biography; involved her father and sister, who run the family's shipping company, in a planned and then canceled trip to China in 2017; and had staffers carry out menial personal tasks like sending her family Christmas ornaments and editing her dad's Wikipedia page.

"Tell them I am Secretary of Transportation," Chao said to a staffer in one instance, who she had asked to call a repair shop about having an item being repaired for her father to be fixed faster, the report states.

At other times, Chao directed aides to mail "Xmas ornaments" to her family, while she also had staffers proofread promotional materials for her father's book.

"Secretary – I am more than happy to assist but just want to make sure you are okay with me handling this?" one staffer emailed Chao, after she asked the aide to help push up a meeting for her father, according to the report.

In August 2017, Chao told a staffer to send a copy of her father's book "to a well-known CEO of a major U.S. corporation" asking that "he write a foreword for the book," the report states.

Chao resigned on Jan. 7, releasing a statement at the time saying it was because of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol.

An aide told The New York Times, who first reported on Chao's alleged misuse of the office, that Chao's resignation didn't have to do with the inspector general's findings.

Chao's representatives did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The report was referred to federal prosecutors in December, although they "declined prosecution," according to the report.

"Based on the lack of prosecutorial interest … [the inspector general] has determined it will close this investigation," the report states, noting the findings were also being furnished to the department's general counsel "for action it deems appropriate."

Chao's office sent a response to the inspector general in September last year, excusing her use of her office for private matters because of her family's cultural traditions.

"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," said the memo sent by the Department of Transportation's top lawyer, Steven Bradbury, according to the report.

"As the eldest daughter, she is expected to assume a leadership role in family occasions that honor her father and her late mother," Bradbury's memo continued.

A public relations firm now representing Chao told the Times this week that the report "closes the book on an election-year effort to impugn her history-making career."

Rep. Peter DeFazio — who requested an investigation into Chao be made — said he was "disappointed" that the Justice Department declined to move forward with a criminal investigation, according to NPR.

"Public servants, especially those responsible for leading tens of thousands of other public servants, must know that they serve the public and not their family's private commercial interests," DeFazio said.

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