Accuracy in Media

Elaine Chao was born in Taiwan. Her father went to school with Jiang Zemin, former president of China, and went on to start a shipping business. Chao hasn’t had anything to do with that business since the 1970s, but that hasn’t stopped the New York Times from attempting to cast her as an insider scandalously greasing the wheels for the family firm.

The basis of the claims reporters Michael Forsythe, Eric Lipton, Keith Bradsher and Sui-Lee Wee leveled in their story “A ‘Bridge’ to China, and her Family’s Business in the Trump Cabinet” – subhead: “Elaine Chao has boosted the profile of her family’s shipping company, which benefits from industrial policies in China that are roiling the Trump administration” – is that a career State Department official in Beijing didn’t like the idea of members of Chao’s family being invited to an event featuring her that was held in China.

“The move to notify Washington was unusual and a sign of how concerned members of the State Department were, said the official, who was not authorized to speak on behalf of the agency,” the Times reporters wrote.

The Times story came just weeks after former presidential adviser Steve Bannon and others began raising questions about Joe Biden’s use of his office to boost the business of his son, Hunter Biden. The questions Bannon raised emerged from a 2018 book by investigative reporter Peter Schweizer entitled “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends.”

In the book, Schweizer wrote that Biden was accused of going soft on China in a trip to Beijing in December 2013, only to have the firm his son ran with Chris Heinz, son-in-law of John Kerry, receive a $1 billion private equity deal from the Chinese government that later was raised to $1.5 billion.

The Times charges Chao began to evade the truth right from the start. “At her confirmation hearing, Ms. Chao did not mention her family’s extensive ties to the Chinese maritime industry,” the Times wrote. “She did not disclose several accolades she has received from China – including a role as an international adviser to the city of Wuhan.”

It quotes a former lawyer from the Office of Government Ethics saying that Chao should recuse herself from any decision involving shipping.

It also charges her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, accepted campaign contributions from members of his wife’s family. In 30 years, the Times wrote, at least 13 “members of the extended Chao family” have contributed more than $1 million to Mr. McConnell’s campaigns and to political action committees tied to him.”

Other potentially corrupt actions by Chao include that she reportedly “repeatedly used her connections and celebrity status in China to boost the profile” of Foremost Shipping, the firm her father founded, which specializes in shipping iron ore and other such products to China.

The company, the Times charged, “benefits handsomely from the expansive industrial policies in Beijing that are at the heart of diplomatic tensions with the United States.”

Now, The Times says, “Ms. Chao is the top Trump official overseeing the American shipping industry, which is in steep decline and overshadowed by its Chinese competitors.”

The U.S. shipping industry grew 4 percent in 2017 and 5 percent in 2018, and there is a push on now to make deep-water ports even deeper to accommodate larger ships.

The Times then seemed to imply the Trump administration was dead set on destroying U.S. shipping to help the Chinese. The Trump administration “has left little doubt that the federal government is willing to use its clout to boost certain American industrial sectors, including coal and steel,” but “those efforts have not extended to the maritime industry under Ms. Chao’s leadership.”

The Transportation Department budget under Chao “has repeatedly called for cuts for programs intended to support the depressed system of American-flagged ships.”

Photo by International Transport Forum

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