Is there anyone who is surprised that former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao violated the rules of her office? Perhaps the real question is whether she knowingly did so and did it for personal gain. The answer to both questions must be “yes.” Serving the people carries the huge burden of conducting oneself in an ethical manner. Indeed, the Inspector General’s report, published by Washington Post, outlined the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. This report explicitly states: “Employees shall not use public office for private gain.”
Unfortunately, we had all too many public officials during the Trump administration who not only used their offices for public gain but went into public service for those gains. Not only are they violating public trust, but they are basically stealing taxpayer money. Think about it: taxpayer dollars pay these people’s salaries. When they use their jobs for activities outside of that which benefits the public, they might as well be sticking their hands into the coffers and pocketing the money. This behavior is both disheartening and despicable. Elaine Chao, of course, made excuses for her behavior.
According to the New York Times, which first questioned Chao’s integrity, Chao refused to answer the inspector general’s questions but instead provided him a self-serving memo about “the importance of promoting her family members as part of her official duties.” This is such crap. She went on to say her behavior is “cultural” and that “Asian audiences welcome and respond positively” when Chao included her father in activities “when appropriate.”
The problem here is that none of the activities in which her family were engaged were appropriate. It was not appropriate to use your office staff to make travel arrangements for your father and sister to accompany you on an unofficial trip to visit Chinese entities that received financial support from you and your family. It was not appropriate to schedule meetings with Chinese leaders for you, your father, and your sister but none of your staff. It was also not appropriate to ask your staff, on paid time, to edit your father’s Wiki page to promote his biography or to have your staff send your father’s book to a CEO so that he could write a forward for that book. Finally, it was not appropriate to use staff to check on the work permit for a foreign student studying in the U.S. courtesy of a scholarship from Chao’s family foundation. The list goes on with Chao’s inappropriate behavior while a “public” servant. It seems that she was more of her family’s servant. The inspector general referred Chao to the DOJ for criminal prosecution in December 2020, but the DOJ declined. We’ll see if the Biden DOJ decides there’s enough of a case to prosecute.
Shirley is a former entertainment writer and has worked in the legal field for over 25 years