- The Washington Times - Monday, June 3, 2019

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao attempted to include family members in on official talks with Chinese officials before ethics concerns were raised about the arrangement, according to a new report published Monday.

The New York Times found State Department officials raised concerns in a 2017 letter about Ms. Chao requesting travel arrangements be made “for at least one” of her family members, as well as to include them along in official government meetings.

While Ms. Chao has no stake in her family’s shipping business, Foremost Group, her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has received millions from her extended family for his reelection campaigns, The New York Times reported. Ms. Chao’s father, James Chao, reportedly gave them “millions of dollars in gifts” until he left the Foremost Group last year.

“She had these relatives who were fairly wealthy and connected to the shipping industry. Their business interests were potentially affected by meetings,” said an unnamed State Department official who was “involved in deliberations,” The New York Times reported.

Former State Department official David H. Rank said he found out about what he called the “alarmingly inappropriate” request after he stepped down as Beijing’s deputy chief of mission.

The report says Ms. Chao canceled the trip after the ethics questions were referred to the State and Transportation departments and media started inquiring about the trip’s specifics.

In a statement provided to The Washington Times following the report’s publication, a Department of Transportation spokesperson said the article shows a “deep misunderstanding” of the department and is “intentionally missing” context.

“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 spokesperson said.

“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,” he said.

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