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Elaine Chao Defends Brother-in-Law’s Nomination to Run Federal Agency

Elaine Chao, US Secretary of Transportation speaks at the start of the 2018 North American International Auto Show Press Preview in Detroit, Michigan, January 14, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Geoff Robins (Photo credit should read GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images)
GEOFF ROBINS/AFP/Getty Images

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao downplayed concerns Thursday of conflicts of interest plaguing brother-in-law Gordon Hartogensis’s nomination to lead the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

“He’s not beholden to the industry,” Chao told the Washington Post’s Robert Costa when pressed about the controversy surrounding the nominee. “Secretary Acosta made the selection and hired him, and I think he’s an excellent choice.”

“He went to Stanford, was valedictorian of his high school class, and he retired before the age of 29 because of his great success,” she added. “I don’t think anybody’s relations or relatives should be held against them — certainly not me.”

Hartogensis, a private investor overseeing his family’s trust fund, is married to Grace Chao, the sister of Elaine Chao.

“Rumors have swirled that McConnell picked [his brother-in-law] Hartogensis to exert greater control over a congressional pensions supercommittee tasked with rescuing insolvent multiemployer pensions. If left to go bankrupt, these pensions, which include the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Funds and the United Mine Workers of America Health & Retirement Funds, risk dragging the underfunded PBGC down with them,” reports Politico.

Chao is widely covered in the #1 New York Times bestselling book Secret Empires by Government Accountability Institute President and Breitbart News Senior Editor-at-Large Peter Schweizer. The book reveals explosive details of both McConnell and Chao’s “deep financial ties” to communist China.

In 2004, current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, current US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, had an average net worth of $3.1 million. Ten years later, that number had increased to somewhere between $9.2 million and $36.5 million.

One source of the windfall, according to a new book from Peter Schweizer, was a 2008 gift from Chao’s father, James Chao, for somewhere between $5 million and $25 million. But this gift could be seen as more than just a gift. It may have been acquired, according to Schweizer, thanks to the couple’s fealty to China, the source of the Chao family fortune. And that fealty may have occurred at the expense of the nation they had pledged to serve.

“Foreign governments and oligarchs like this form of corruption because it gives them private and unfettered gateways to the corridors of Washington power,” Schweizer writes in Secret Empires.

“Foreign entities cannot legally make campaign contributions, so using this approach creates an alternative way to curry favor and influence America’s political leaders. Simply camouflaging these transactions as business agreements provides another shield of plausible deniability.”

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