According to the Journal’s report on Chao’s financial disclosure forms and related documents, the Trump Cabinet official has maintained her holdings in Vulcan Materials — holdings that have gained more than $40,000 over the past year.
In an ethics agreement at the outset of the Trump administration, Chao told the Office of Government Ethics that she would not “participate personally and substantially in any particular matter in which I know that I have a financial interest,” and said she would resign her position with Vulcan Materials and anticipated receiving a cash payout for her “vested deferred stock units” in 2018, the year after she would separate from the company.
A 2018 financial disclosure form with OGE from Chao said again that she would receive a cash payment from Vulcan Materials, but the Journal said she was instead compensated for exiting the company in shares of the company stock and continued to hold it, rather than be cashed out.
A Department of Transportation spokesperson told CNN on Tuesday that “department ethics officials have been working to clarify the term ‘cash payout’ in the agreement to match what the company actually did,” and maintained that Chao had followed her agreements to resign from the board of Vulcan Materials and to “not participate in matters with a direct and predictable impact” on the company.
A Transportation spokesperson told the Journal that the ethics agreement was flawed and that the department’s ethics official ruled that Chao owning the shares was not a conflict of interest. The department spokesperson who talked to CNN said the department’s designated agency ethics official had determined that holding the stock presented no conflict of interest and that Chao would continue to be disqualified from “Vulcan matters” while holding the stock.
The Journal also cited OGE’s former head, Walter Shaub, in saying it probably was not a legal conflict of interest. Shaub, however, also told the Journal, “For the head of the DOT to have a financial interest in an asphalt company, that is not sending a message to employees of DOT that she is making ethics a priority.”
Chao is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose financial records the Journal referred to as well.