Elaine L. Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, awaits in front of an art project during a meeting in Leipzig main station in the context of the International Transport Forum in Leipzig, Germany, May 22, 2019.
Matthias Rietschel/Reuters

Elaine Chao, Trump’s Transportation Sec, faces House inquiry

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/16/19, 9:11 PM ET

House probing Chao on questions of conflict with family business

Rachel Maddow reports on a newly opened House investigation of Trump Transportation Secretary and wife of Mitch McConnell, Elaine Chao, who is accused of being too close to her family’s shipping business while ostensibly representing the business of the
Earlier this summer, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao faced accusations that she made special arrangements to benefit projects in Kentucky – where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is the senior senator. This was unrelated to separate reporting alleging that the Republican cabinet secretary held onto stock in a transportation company after she was supposed to have divested.

And as it turns out, those aren’t the only Chao-related controversies being examined on Capitol Hill. The New York Times reported yesterday afternoon:

The House Oversight and Reform Committee asked Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao on Monday to turn over documents related to communication with her family’s shipping company as the panel stepped up an investigation into whether any actions taken by Ms. Chao amount to a conflict of interest.

The request by the committee in the Democrat-controlled House relates to actions Ms. Chao has taken that potentially benefited Foremost Group, a New York-based shipping company owned by her family.

As Rachel noted on the show last night, Chao has made a habit of doing events with her father, who runs her family’s shipping company, and emphasizing in interviews the good relationship between Donald Trump and her dad.

As the cabinet secretary ought to realize, this is inherently problematic, since her family’s business has been trying to project its international reach. The more Chao’s father can give the appearance of having an in with the United States government, the more it’s likely to help the business’ bottom line.

It’s hardly unreasonable for the House Oversight Committee to seek some additional information about the Transportation secretary and her possible efforts to benefit her family’s business.

But taking a step back, there’s another question worth considering: is there really another member of Donald Trump’s cabinet under investigation?

As regular readers know, the list keeps growing. We recently learned, for example, that David Bernhardt, a former corporate lobbyist for the oil industry, became the subject of an ethics investigation immediately after becoming the nation’s new Interior secretary. Federal prosecutors recently presented evidence to a grand jury on Ryan Zinke, Bernhardt’s predecessor.

That news arrived around the same time that we learned new details about Alex Acosta, Trump’s former Labor secretary, who allegedly broke the law while shielding a politically connected sex trafficker. Acosta was later forced to resign.

Last year, NBC News published a list of Trump administration figures accused of crossing ethical and/or legal lines, and the list wasn’t at all short. It included familiar controversies involving former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, former HHS Secretary Tom Price, former regulatory adviser Carl Icahn, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, former CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

That wasn’t an exhaustive tally. As we discussed at the time, there have been related controversies surrounding Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and former VA Secretary David Shulkin. While we’re at it, let’s also not overlook controversies surrounding Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who seems to get more controversial all the time, and former FEMA Director Brock Long. Even acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan faced an ethics probe.

In June, Donald Trump declared with pride, “There are those that say we have one of the finest cabinets.” No one has ever made such an assessment. No one ever should.