The New York Times published an eye opening piece on Sunday hinting strongly that Trump cabinet member Elaine Chao “boosted the profile of her family’s shipping company” by using her position as Secretary of the Transportation Department.
Chao’s family founded the shipping giant Foremost Group, which she stepped away from in a “formal” capacity in the 1970s, and leaving her sister, Angela Chao, in the role of CEO. The NYT article was quick to mention that Chao’s sister ALSO has ties to the Chinese state, most notably a membership on the board of the Bank of China.
Angela Chao was contacted for comment and told the Times, “We are an international shipping company, and I’m an American… I don’t think that, if I didn’t have a Chinese face, there would be any of this focus on China.”
The Times piece says there is a connection with the Chao family’s ties to Foremost and Chao’s cost-cutting ideas for the Maritime Administration, where she suggested refurbishing used ships as an alternative to buying new ones. But some leaders are coming to her defense, including Republican Maine Sen. Susan Collins who said that the White House is responsible for those budget pull backs, not Chao.
My parents and I came to America armed only with deep faith in the basic kindness and goodness of this country and the opportunities it offers. My family are patriotic Americans who have led purpose-driven lives and contributed much to this country. They embody the American dream, and my parents inspired all their daughters to give back to this country we love.Statement to the New York Times from Elaine Chao
In Beijing, the Chao family is highly respected, even having biographies printed about them from a state run publisher and subsequently released at “ceremonies attended by high-ranking members of the Communist Party” according to the Times article.
While Ms. Chao has visited China several times, the NYT article focused specifically on what would have been her FIRST trip as DOT secretary. The trip had been planned for 2017 but was then canceled in light of ethical concerns brought up to the State Dept. and DOT officials.
Although the Foremost Group has almost no footprint in the US, “ethical concerns” and media attention surrounding Foremost and Chao are certainly nothing new. Chao has made several appearances with her father, James Chao, that have raised eyebrows and been the subject of speculation where the family’s foundation and taxes are concerned.
What story on Elaine Chao would be complete without mentioning that her husband of nearly 30 years is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The NYT article pointed out that the Chao family has donated “more than $1 million to Mr. McConnell’s campaigns and to political action committees tied to him” since 1989. McConnell stands by the family’s donations, saying, “I’m proud to have had the support of my family over the years.”
Chao first served in a president’s cabinet under George W. Bush, where she was Labor secretary for eight years. She was named DOT secretary in January 2017 just a few days following President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The NYT’s Sunday story on Chao comes about a week after The Wall Street Journal published a piece based on federal disclosure forms showing Chao retained stock in a construction materials company despite signing an ethics agreement agreeing to a cash payout from the company.