The House Oversight and Reform Committee stepped up its conflict of interest investigation into Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, demanding Monday that she turn over documents related to communications with her family’s shipping business.
Democrats are probing whether Ms. Chao took action to benefit Foremost Group, a shipping company owned by her family.
Since becoming transportation secretary in 2017, Ms. Chao has made public appearances with her father, who founded Foremost and planned a trip to China with him to meet government officials.
In that time, Foremost has received hundreds of millions of dollars in loans from a Chinese bank to build ships in government-owned shipyards.
“Federal regulations prohibit federal employees from using their public offices for ‘the private gain of friends, relatives or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity,” committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Illinois Democrat, wrote in a letter to Ms. Chao.
The letter also asks Ms. Chao for documents related to her proposal to ax more than $80 million from the Maritime Security Program, which subsidizes American cargo ships to move supplies into war zones. Cuts to that program would affect America’s support for the cargo industry while Foremost was being boosted by the Chinese government, the committee alleged.
A Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter in a statement.
“We look forward to responding to the Committee’s request. Media attacks targeting the Secretary’s family are stale and only attempt to undermine her long career of public service,” the statement said.
Democrats also want documents about Ms. Chao’s 2018 failure to sell off her stock in Vulcan Materials Company, a manufacturer of road construction materials. Ms. Chao promised in 2017 she would divest that stock as part of an ethics pledge, the committee said.
The committee made 18 different requests for documents and materials, including copies of communications Ms. Chao made with her father or sister, Angela Chao, who now runs the company.
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