Asked if he is concerned by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao appointing a special liaison to handle grant requests from her husband Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. Cory Gardner refused to answer.
Confronted leaving a Washington, D.C. building last Friday by a tracker for American Bridge, the Democratic super PAC that birddogs Republicans, Gardner simply smiled and remained silent.
Tracker: Senator, are you OK with Secretary Chao appointing a special liaison to Mitch McConnell’s office? Gardner: [Smiles]
According to a June 10 Politico report, Chao used her cabinet position to help direct taxpayer money to McConnell’s favored projects
Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stated in an email to McConnell’s Senate office that Chao had personally asked him to serve as an intermediary, helped advise the senator and local Kentucky officials on grants with special significance for McConnell — including a highway-improvement project in a McConnell political stronghold that had been twice rejected for previous grant applications. Tucker Doherty and Tanya Snyder, Politico, June 10, 2019
Gardner has supported all but one of Trump’s cabinet nominees, including several who have since resigned amidst ethics scandals, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
This isn’t the first time Secretary Chao’s actions as a cabinet member have come under scrutiny for benefitting her family. Earlier this month the New York Times reported on Chao’s office asking State Dept. staff to include her family members in high-level meetings with Chinese government officials. The Times cited an expert who summarized both the economic and security concerns:
“This is a family with financial ties to a government that is a strategic rival,” said Kathleen Clark, an anti-corruption expert at Washington University in St. Louis. “It raises a question about whether those familial and financial ties affect Chao when she exercises judgment or gives advice on foreign and national security policy matters that involve China.” Michael Forsythe, Eric Lipton, Keith Bradsher & Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times, June 2, 2019
As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee from 2017 – 2019, Sen. Gardner worked closely with Majority Leader McConnell.