Report: Mitch McConnell’s Wife Focus Of Investigation Into IG Firing
President Donald Trump ousted the Transportation Department’s acting inspector general in May, leading House Democrats to say they will investigate the move over concerns it was tied to the inspector general’s probe into Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, The Washington Post reports.
Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and has faced questions over whether her department has extended preferential treatment to Kentucky regarding infrastructure projects in the state.
- Trump removed acting Inspector General Mitch Behm, who is the department’s deputy, and installed Howard “Skip” Elliott, head of a pipeline safety agency, to fill the role.
- House Democrats raised concerns over Behm’s ouster, citing the ongoing investigation into Chao’s activities and Trump’s broader efforts to undermine the work of inspectors general across the federal government.
- In a letter to Chao and Elliott, leaders of the House Oversight and Transportation committees requested information regarding communication between Chao, her team, and the White House surrounding Trump’s decision to replace Behm.
Transportation Committee Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR) first asked the inspector general’s office to probe “Chao’s influence on a discretionary grant program called Infrastructure For Rebuilding America (INFRA)” in October 2019, The Post reported.
- DeFazio said at the time that news reports indicated “that Secretary Chao’s office has degraded the ability of career staff at DOT to objectively assess the merits of grant applications.”
- The congressman had also raised questions over “Chao’s family’s shipping business and whether she followed her ethics agreement to divest stock in Vulcan Materials, both of which the House Oversight Committee is also investigating.”
- DeFazio and oversight panel leaders, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Gerald E. Connolly (D-VA), called on Chao to urge the White House to reinstate Behm, who was placed in the acting role after the department’s inspector general retired earlier this year.
“We are concerned that Mr. Behm’s removal could be an effort to undermine the progress of this investigation, which we understand is ongoing,” the lawmakers wrote to Chao. “Any attempt by you or your office to interfere with the Office of Inspector General’s investigation of yourself is illegal and will be thoroughly examined by our Committees.”
The members of Congress also expressed concern over Elliott’s ability to both head the pipeline safety agency and attend to the duties of the inspector general’s office.
- They suggested that Elliott would be stretched too thin by holding two demanding roles at once.
- Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), the top Democrat on the Senate subcommittee that oversees pipeline safety voiced concern over potential conflicts of interest.
- Duckworth said in a statement: “Acting Inspector General Skip Elliott being charged with auditing and investigating the actions of PHMSA Administrator Skip Elliott makes a mockery of the entire system of Inspectors General.”
Trump’s firing of Behm came on the same day he removed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who reportedly was investigating Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s alleged use of staff for running personal errands, as well as probing a 2019 U.S.-Saudi arms deal.
In a letter to Elliott, the House lawmakers raised the issue of Trump’s efforts to clean house among the government’s inspectors general, writing:
“This assault on the integrity and independence of Inspectors General appears to be an intentional campaign to undermine their ability to expose corruption and protect taxpayer dollars from waste, fraud, and abuse.”
Recently exposed emails, which were requested by the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that many were surprised by the decision to remove Mitch Behm from his position.
- An outside associate wrote to Behm, referring to the Trump administration, saying “Wow, they really only trust their own bench.”
HuffPost also reported that Behm told House Democrats in a June 2 letter that Elliott had not intervened in any investigations since taking over the position:
“I can attest to the fact that since becoming Acting Inspector General, Mr. Elliott has not directed or requested the modification of any audit or investigation,” he wrote.