Sep 16, 2019

House panel launches ethics probe into Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for Uber Elevate

The House Oversight Committee on Monday launched an ethics investigation into Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

The big picture: Reports allege Chao has used her position to benefit Foremost Group, a shipping company owned by her sisters and father. Chao was also accused of continuing to own stock in a construction materials company called Vulcan Materials, even though she claimed before her confirmation that she would divest. Chao later divested in June 2019 and admitted to “inadvertent misstatements of fact" in her financial disclosure report and ethics agreement.

  • According to a letter from Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the investigation will probe decisions by the Department of Transportation to deprioritize or reduce funding for programs that benefitted U.S.-flagged vessels in foreign trade. Chao's family company owns entirely foreign-flagged ships.
  • Chao is also accused of trying to elevate the company's influence with the Chinese government. Chao appeared in Chinese-media interviews alongside her father, James Chao, who boasted about his access to President Trump, according to Politico.
  • Federal law prohibits sitting officials from using their positions to privately benefit themselves or others.

What they're saying:

“The Committee is examining your misstatements of fact, your actions that may have benefitted the company in which you continued to hold shares, and your compliance with ethics and financial disclosure requirements.”
— Cummings and Krishnamoorthi

What's next: Chao has until Sept. 30 to turn over documents and communications related to the committee's lines of inquiry.

Go deeper: 70% of Americans believe the political system is rigged

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Feds spend $60 million for AV tests on public roads

A Ford Argo AI test vehicle being tested in downtown Detroit. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced nearly $60 million in federal grants to 8 automated driving projects in 7 states.

Why it matters: The projects will help communities gather significant safety data that will be shared with the agency to help shape future regulations on self-driving cars.

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State Dept. watchdog highlights suspect documents in Ukraine hearing

Steve Linick. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick provided "assorted news clippings and conspiratorial memos" on alleged Democratic wrongdoing in Ukraine that "he did not assign credibility to" on Wednesday in a private committee hearing that he requested, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: Interview notes involving Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and "Ukrainian officials about the Bidens" appeared to be among the materials, which were addressed to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, per NYT.

Go deeperArrowOct 3, 2019

Pentagon spent at least $184,000 on Trump Turnberry Resort stopovers

Trump speaking at Trump Turnberry, 2016. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

According to a letter from the House Oversight Committee, the Department of Defense spent at least $184,000 on stopovers at President Trump's Turnberry golf resort in Scotland.

What they're saying: "Although initial press accounts reported only a single instance of a military crew staying at Trump Turnberry this spring, the data provided by the Department now indicates that U.S. taxpayer funds have been used to pay for more than three dozen separate stays involving hundreds of nights of rooms—all after the President was sworn into office," the letter says, suggesting the spending was an apparent violation of the domestic emoluments clause of the Constitution.

Go deeperArrowSep 18, 2019