Former White House counsel: I’m ‘not aware of any situation like’ Transportation Secretary Chao’s conflicts of interest

In recent weeks, the term “conflict of interest” has been used a lot in connection with Elaine Chao, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation under the Trump Administration. Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and a June 10 report in Politico found that she used her position to help create a pathway for transportation projects in her husband’s state, Kentucky. Discussing Chao’s activities with Yahoo Finance, ethics lawyer Virginia Canter asserted that the conflict of interest is enormous.

Previously, Canter served as a White House associate counsel under two previous presidents: Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Presently, Canter is chief ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington — and she said of Chao, “I am not aware of any situation like this.”

The Wall Street Journal, on May 28, reported that Chao still owns shares in a company that provides construction materials, Vulcan Materials Co., more than a year after promising to give them up. Further, Chao’s family owns an American shipping company with deep business and political ties in China.

Canter told Yahoo Finance, “Corruption is the use of public office for private gain. And corrupt activity takes place because it tends to promote, or make policies or decisions that benefit the private interests of … their family members, if not themselves directly.”

Chao’s activities, Canter asserted, fit “within the broad definition of what corruption is.”

Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Oregon Democrat who now heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in an official statement, “If the Committee gets information that President Trump’s transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, is abusing her position to dole out projects to benefit her husband’s reelection bid, then I would certainly have questions that would need to be answered — and I would use all tools at my disposal to get those answers.”

New York Rep. Sean Maloney, another Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, recently told MSNBC that DeFazio “has given me the green light to proceed with an inquiry” on Chao.

Maloney went on to tell MSNBC, “We are going to be fair, but there are serious allegations that the secretary of transportation has used her position to benefit her family’s business… and to help her husband… That’s wrong. It’s not politics as usual, it’s nepotism. And the public deserves to know what the truth is.”