A senior House Democrat has asked the Transportation Department's internal watchdog to investigate whether Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao showed undue favoritism to Kentucky constituents of her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
On Friday, Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, wrote DOT's inspector general asking him to probe any conflicts of interest Chao has. Specifically, DeFazio cited two POLITICO stories, one detailing Chao's disproportionate number of meetings with Kentucky officials during her first year in the position and another suggesting she had designated a member of her senior staff to serve as a point person for Kentucky issues, which the agency denies.
"I would expect Secretary Chao to meet with individuals from her home state more regularly than other states, but the sheer volume … is troubling,” Defazio said. “Even more troubling is the fact that Senator McConnell’s campaign touted the POLITICO article on social media.”
DeFazio's request to the inspector general also raised concerns about previous reporting by The New York Times detailing Chao’s financial conflicts of interest related to her family’s shipping business and her failure to divest from Vulcan Materials Co.
A spokesperson for DOT, who requested anonymity in keeping with the agency's practice under the Trump administration, dismissed the media reports, saying the allegations aired within those stories "were first raised by left-wing advocacy groups and hashed out in the media, and the Department has previously fully responded to them."
"They are politically motivated and intended to waste time. While the Department will always be cooperative and responsive to appropriate requests, DOT looks forward to a prompt and final resolution of these questions," the spokesperson continued
Sam Graves of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Transportation Committee, panned DeFazio's request as a "ridiculous attempt at a political hit job,” accusing the Democrats of “focusing more on going down political rabbit holes” than “working on important bipartisan infrastructure issues.”
Graves called Chao “a consummate professional and effective transportation official.”