The Justice Department declined to pursue an ethics inquiry against Elaine Chao, former transportation secretary, and wife of Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), according to a report released Wednesday, March 3.
In a 44-page report, an inspector general overseeing the Transportation Department accused Chao of using her office staff to conduct personal tasks and work related to promoting the Foremost Group, a New York-based shipping business owned by her father and sister that has ties to Chinese state companies.
According to Newsweek, the ethics investigation of Chao was referred to federal prosecutors for criminal prosecution last December. Still, it was closed when the Justice Department declined to investigate, citing no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
In response to the report’s accusations, a spokesperson for Chao said the report “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.”
The Foremost Group shipping company, which transports coal and iron ore, reportedly had deep ties to Chinese elites, including the state-owned China State Shipbuilding board.
Chao’s extended family contributed over $1 million to the Kentucky senator’s campaigns, and the couple received millions of dollars in gifts from her father.
According to data released by the U.S. Small Business Administration, in 2020, Foremost Group received a loan of between $350,000 and $1 million from the Paycheck Protection Program, which was established by the federal CCP Virus relief package.
Chao served as labor secretary under President George W. Bush before working for the Trump administration. She resigned on January 7, saying she was “deeply troubled” by the U.S. Capitol breach.
Former President Donald Trump and McConnell found themselves at odds in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when McConnell urged his fellow Republicans to vote to certify the election for then-candidate Joe Biden as Trump asserted the election had been stolen from him.
McConnell voted to acquit the former president in the impeachment trial but said Trump bears responsibility for the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The senator left the door ajar for a criminal trial against Trump.
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while in office,” McConnell said. “He didn’t get away with anything yet. We have a criminal justice system in this country. We have civil litigation.”
In a scathing statement, the former president called McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” and said the Republican Party would “never again be respected or strong” with McConnell at its helm.
Trump also called out McConnell’s stance on China, saying, “McConnell has no credibility on China because of his family’s substantial Chinese business holdings. He does nothing on this tremendous economic and military threat.”
The former president promised to back primary rivals against McConnell.
“That’s why I am announcing that I will be actively working to elect strong, smart, and tough Republican leaders,” Trump said during his Sunday address at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “We want Republican leaders who are loyal to the voters and who will vote proudly for the vision that I’ve laid out today.”