DeFazio requests investigation into DOT’s Chao

October 16, 2019

Mark Schremmer

|

Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has requested an investigation into Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s reported conflicts of interest.

DeFazio, D-Ore., sent a letter to DOT Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III citing a recent media report that suggested Chao used her office to give preferential treatment to organizations and projects in Kentucky, where her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is seeking re-election.

News reports

Politico reported that 25% of Secretary Chao’s meetings with local officials between January 2017 and March 2018 were with individuals from Kentucky, the same state her husband … represents in the U.S. Senate,” DeFazio wrote. “The report noted that requests for meetings with Secretary Chao are typically forwarded from Sen. McConnell’s office to Secretary Chao’s chief of staff, who previously worked on Sen. McConnell’s campaign.”

The report said Chao’s chief of staff, Todd Inman, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on federal grants of “significant importance” to McConnell. Allegations included the steering of discretionary grants to fund these projects.

“I would expect Secretary Chao to meet with individuals from her home state more regularly than other states, but the sheer volume of meetings with local officials from Kentucky when compared to meetings with local officials from the rest of the country creates an appearance of favoritism that is troubling,” DeFazio wrote.

According to Politico, Chao declined comment on the reports, but a DOT spokesperson said, “The Office of the Secretary has an open-door policy and welcomes meetings from all state and local officials across the country. Any suggestion to the contrary is not based in fact.”

A DOT spokesperson also issued a response to Land Line.

“These allegations were first raised by left wing advocacy groups and hashed out in the media, and the department has previously fully responded to them. They are politically motivated and intended to waste time. While the department will always be cooperative and responsive to appropriate requests, DOT looks forward to a prompt and final resolution of these questions.”

Federal ethics agreement

In addition to allegations of favoritism toward Kentucky officials, DeFazio’s letter mentioned reports involving Chao’s personal finances.

“News reports have also raised questions about Secretary Chao’s adherence to her federal ethics agreement in which she agreed to divest certain assets to prevent her personal finances from creating conflicts of interest,” DeFazio wrote. “In particular, it has been reported that the secretary retained stock in Vulcan Materials, a stone and asphalt producer, as opposed to accepting a cash payment for her stock options in the company, as provided in her ethics agreement.

“I respectfully request that you investigate these matters and report back to this committee on your findings.”

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, associate editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.