Watchdog Sues for Emails Between DOT Secretary Chao and Senator Mitch McConnell

Nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight today filed a lawsuit to obtain emails and other communications between the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Senator Mitch McConnell’s office.

“With the ethics scandals mounting at EPA, HUD, and other agencies, the possibility that Secretary Chao is playing backroom dealer between the president and her husband, Mitch McConnell, has been overlooked,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “Given that Secretary Chao is one of Washington’s best-connected insiders who oversees billions of dollars in federal spending, the public should know if Chao is letting undue influence affect how she runs the agency. It’s time to shed light on whether McConnell gets a say in shaping DOT policy.”

McConnell, the current U.S. Senate Majority Leader, and Chao have been married since 1993. Throughout their marriage, Chao has played a central role in McConnell’s political career. When President Trump appointed Chao to be DOT secretary in 2016, she was viewed as a critical link between Trump and congressional leaders, including McConnell, on infrastructure negotiations. During her tenure as secretary, Chao has shown her commitment to “stand by [her] man – both of them,” acting as a connecting force between Trump and McConnell in the midst of their rocky relationship. McConnell refused to recuse himself from Chao’s Senate confirmation.

Earlier this month, Chao drew criticism for blurring the line between official and family business. Chao appeared in numerous interviews with her father, a shipping magnate. In at least one interview, which appears to take place at DOT, the agency flag can be seen behind the interviewer. The same interview features the flag of Kentucky—the state McConnell represents.

American Oversight’s lawsuit comes after DOT failed to provide records in response to a January 2018 Freedom of Information Act request. The request sought communications between McConnell or his staff and DOT employees within three agency offices: the Immediate Office of the Secretary, the Office of the Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, and the Office of Governmental Affairs.

See the complaint below: