U.S. Justice Department Declines Launching Criminal Investigation into then-Secretary Elaine Chao’s Misuse of Office Allegations

An ethics investigation into the alleged misuse of office of former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has been closed after the U.S. Justice Department declined to take up the case for a criminal prosecution, according to a report made public on Wednesday.

In December, the Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) referred the accusations to the Justice Department for review after finding out that Chao allegedly used her authority to direct public affairs staff to research or purchase personal items for her online using her personal credit card or to promote a shipping business owned by her father and sisters.

The preliminary review of the inspector general’s office said that these actions were a blatant violation of federal ethics.

In a letter addressed to House Transportation and Infrastructure chairman Peter DeFazio, Deputy Inspector General Mitch Behm concluded that “a formal investigation into the potential misuses” of Chao’s position “was warranted.”

However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Justice Department’s criminal and public integrity divisions declined to open a criminal investigation.

DeFazio expressed his disappointment after knowing that the Justice Department “declined to further pursue the matters that the OIG’s office substantiated in its investigation.”

“Public servants, especially those responsible for leading tens of thousands of other public servants, must know that they serve the public and not their family’s private commercial interests,” he said.

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