Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, one of the only members of the Trump cabinet that could be considered even remotely mainstream based on her previous history serving in the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations, has turned out to be just as corrupt as the rest of the Trump gang. Before her confirmation in 2017, Chao signed an ethics agreement stating she would sell her shares of Vulcan Materials Co., the country’s largest supplier of road-paving materials.
She didn’t. Since April 2018, the month she was to have cashed out of the stock, share prices have risen by nearly 13% and she’s made more than $40,000 off of them, according to corporate and government filings. In fact, she got the shares (deferred compensation for her nearly two-year stint on Vulcan’s board of directors) in April 2018, and they are now worth almost $400,000. Chao has supposedly recused herself from any decisions that might involve Vulcan, which is an interesting concept since Vulcan is the nation’s biggest supplier of crushed rock, gravel, and sand for highway construction and Chao’s Transportation Department funds big projects that include building and repairing highways. But sure—no problem, says the DOT’s top ethics official. It’s all good because owning shares in the company isn’t a conflict of interest if she says she’s not making any of these decisions.
That’s not how it has worked with previous Transportation secretaries. Take Ray LaHood, who served under President Obama and sold his stakes in Caterpillar and Ford Motor Co. before he was confirmed. “I basically sold everything,” he told The Wall Street Journal for this story. “The ethics police told me to do it, so I did it.” Likewise for Chao’s top deputy Jeffrey Rosen, who “sold stakes in 16 companies upon joining the DOT, including Chevron Corp., United Technologies Corp. and Home Depot Inc., according to ethics filings.” Or Federal Railroad Administrator Ronald Batory, who sold the stocks he owned in Norfolk Southern Corp. and Union Pacific Corp. as well as cancelling the stock awards he was due from his previous employer, Consolidated Rail Corp.
This isn’t normal or right, says Walter Shaub, former chief of the Office of Government Ethics.
“If you look at her ethics agreement, it provides for a complete disentanglement of her interest from Vulcan Materials, and that’s what was represented to the Senate,” Mr. Shaub said. “For the head of the DOT to have a financial interest in an asphalt company, that is not sending a message to employees of DOT that she is making ethics a priority.”
Not that you would necessarily expect more from the woman who has chosen to spend the last 26 years of her life married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. They’ve proven to be quite the team when it comes to steering government grift their way.