After Chao, it Should Be Perdue’s Time in the Barrel

Trump’s cabinet is setting a record for the number of ethical complaints and violations. At this moment, it seems to be Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao’s turn in the barrel. First came this report from the New York Times.

The email arrived in Washington before dawn. An official at the American Embassy in Beijing was urgently seeking advice from the State Department about an “ethics question.”

“I am writing you because Mission China is in the midst of preparing for a visit from Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao,” the official wrote in October 2017.

Ms. Chao’s office had made a series of unorthodox requests related to her first scheduled visit to China as a Trump cabinet member, according to people with knowledge of the email. Among them: asking federal officials to help coordinate travel arrangements for at least one family member and include relatives in meetings with government officials.

In China, the Chaos are no ordinary family. They run an American shipping company with deep ties to the economic and political elite in China, where most of the company’s business is centered. The trip was abruptly canceled by Ms. Chao after the ethics question was referred to officials in the State and Transportation Departments and, separately, after The New York Times and others made inquiries about her itinerary and companions.

Next came a story that involves Chao’s husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is running for reelection in 2020.

The Transportation Department under Secretary Elaine Chao designated a special liaison to help with grant applications and other priorities from her husband Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, paving the way for grants totaling at least $78 million for favored projects as McConnell prepared to campaign for reelection.

Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell’s Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell — including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications…

Chao’s designation of Inman as a special intermediary for Kentucky — a privilege other states did not enjoy — gave a special advantage to projects favored by her husband, which could in turn benefit his political interests.

In seeking to boost the financial interests of her family in China and her husband’s reelection efforts in Kentucky, those two examples absolutely reek of corruption. But the president who constantly promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington couldn’t care less.

Meanwhile, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue seems to have an affinity for foreign crooks. You might remember that the New York Daily News recently uncovered the story about how $62 million of the aid that was designated to help farmers cope with Trump’s tariff wars went to two Brazilian crooks. Now NYDN tells us that $200,000 of that same aid went to a corrupt Japanese company.

More than $200,000 meant for struggling American farmers was given earlier this year by the Trump administration to a grain supplier owned by a Japanese corporation with a history of corruption — the second foreign-controlled company to be showered with such bailout cash, federal records show.

Columbia Grain International, an Oregon-based subsidiary of Japanese trading powerhouse Marubeni, was awarded two taxpayer-funded bailout contracts in February from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for green and yellow split peas with a combined worth of $203,000, according to previously undisclosed purchase reports seen by the Daily News.

While it is unclear why Perdue’s department would be handing out cash that was meant as farm aid to foreign companies, both the Brazilian and Japanese firms have been prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act for paying bribes to obtain contracts. So this one reeks as well.

After Chao, it should be Perdue’s time in the barrel.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.