Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s family has deep business ties to China — placing the key Cabinet official in a potentially conflicting position with the Trump administration’s confrontational posture toward the US’ major economic rival, according to a report from The New York Times.
The Times investigation outlined Chao’s ties to Foremost Group, her family’s shipping business. The report noted that while Chao “has no formal affiliation or stake” in the company, she and her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have received millions in gifts from Chao’s father, who used to run the company, along with political donations from her family.
Chao, according to the report, has boosted the company in China, whose government runs a bank that has loan commitments from the shipping company in the order of “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The report said in addition to the shipping company, Chao’s family has other ties to official China, including board positions in state companies and a close relationship between Chao’s father and former Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin.
The Times said Chao declined an interview and that the Transportation Department provided a statement from her defending herself and her family.
“My family are patriotic Americans who have led purpose-driven lives and contributed much to this country,” Chao’s written statement read. “They embody the American dream, and my parents inspired all their daughters to give back to this country we love.”
Likewise, a Transportation Department spokesman said the report wove “together a web of innuendos and baseless inferences.”
McConnell said in a statement that he was “proud to have had the support of my family over the years.”
Chao’s sister Angela, who runs Foremost, told the Times that the company does not have a “China focus” and said, “We are an international shipping company, and I’m an American.”
“I don’t think that, if I didn’t have a Chinese face, there would be any of this focus on China,” Angela Chao told the Times.
The Times report said Foremost’s “fleet is overwhelmingly focused on China.”
Chao was previously the Labor secretary during the Bush administration, and from the outset of the Trump administration, she has been the head of the Transportation Department, which, as the Times noted, makes Chao the top official overseeing the US shipping industry.