WASHINGTON – Elaine Chao is not exactly the kind of Cabinet pick you would expect from outsider Donald Trump.
The Bush administration retread has deep ties to the anti-coal Bloomberg Foundation, is married to big-time Trans-Pacific Partnership supporter and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and has deep business and political links to China.
And that’s just the beginning of her resume.
As WND reported, when President George W. Bush nominated her to be his labor secretary, Chinese dissidents like Hongda “Harry” Wu were shocked.
“I worry about Elaine Chao’s business relationship with communist China,” he said in 2001. “This woman has a significant shipping business through her father.”
James S.C. Chao is the founder of New York-based Foremost Maritime Corp., which ships goods to China and also buys ships from the China State Shipbuilding Corporation. Chao’s ties to former Chinese President Jiang Zemin run deep. The two were classmates at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai and have kept in touch ever since.
In 1994, for instance, James Chao, along with Elaine Chao and her husband, GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, visited mainland China and met with Jiang. James Chao, along with his daughter, returned to China the next year to take an honorary professorship and presidency at the Shanghai Maritime College. When Jiang visited the White House in 1997, he met privately for about 20 minutes with Elaine Chao, along with McConnell, before an elaborate state dinner for Jiang hosted by President Clinton. The Kentucky senator met again with Jiang the next morning.
“He was trying to emphasize that the U.S. and China are natural friends, and their futures are intertwined, and that they should try to understand each other,” Elaine Chao said in describing her talk with Jiang.
She has lobbied for normalized trade with China and has downplayed concerns about China’s growing military threat, espionage campaigns in the U.S. and human rights abuses.
Wu, a Hoover Institution fellow, criticizes Chao for glossing over the fact that China is still run by communist hard-liners who pump proceeds from U.S. trade back into military front companies run by a privileged class. A prominent human-rights activist, Wu spent about two decades in Chinese prisons for his political views.
“I’m very surprised Bush would pick her to head labor, especially when most of the profits from trade with China goes into the pockets of socialist leaders, not workers,” Wu said.
Both Chao and McConnell, however, serve on the board of the China Foundation, a nonprofit charity devoted to helping develop rural parts of China.
McConnell has been China’s biggest Republic booster in the Senate. Chao sought out John Huang to help raise money for Republican senators in 1989 – beating Bill and Hillary Clinton to the punch in 1992. In 1993, Huang, then head of Lippo Bank, rounded up a coalition of Chinese banks and individuals to sponsor Chao’s visit to Los Angeles as the new head of United Way. Huang gave McConnell $2,000 in illegal donations as part of a foreign money-laundering scheme — one of only two contributions Huang made to Republicans.
Chao criticized the prosecution of Huang in the Chinagate scandal as racially motivated.
But there’s much, much more.
When she served the conservative Heritage Foundation as Asian studies adviser, a military analyst who sounded warnings about Chinese threats to U.S. security was shown the door, WND reported at the time. Chao served at Heritage beginning in 1996 before leaving to become Bush’s labor secretary in 2001. While at Heritage, the think tank opened an office in Hong Kong.
Some reports by the ousted Heritage analyst – 16-year veteran Richard Fisher Jr. – were footnoted in the declassified version of the bipartisan Cox Report, which documented Chinese espionage at U.S. defense labs, while warning of China’s goal of modernizing the People’s Liberation Army to project power past the mainland’s waters, targeting U.S. allies like Taiwan and even the U.S.
“Elaine Chao was part of the deal that got Rick Fisher fired from Heritage,” a congressional aide who worked with him on China matters told WND. “She pushed him out not because of free-trade issues, but because he raised national security concerns over China.”
A Heritage insider agreed: “She was not supportive of any of his writings on the Chinese military.”
One of her patrons was Maurice “Hank” Greenberg, a pro-China lobbyist whose insurance company does business in China. During a Heritage debate over normalizing trade with China, Greenberg protested a Heritage paper by analyst Stephen J. Yates. It suggested Congress postpone the vote on the trade bill to consider adding national security measures, such as tightening controls on exports with military applications.
After Greenberg threatened to cut off funding, Heritage issued a new report: “How Trade with China Benefits Americans,” which was co-authored by Fisher’s replacement, Larry M. Wortzel, at the Asian Studies Center. The May 5, 2000, report buried concerns about China’s defense buildup and its hunger for military-related exports.
Greenberg, chairman and chief executive of New York-based American International Group, gave Heritage $180,000 in 1998 and at least $100,000 a year for more than a decade through his Starr Foundation.
Leadership at Heritage has completely turned over in the years since Chao left.
Greenberg and AIG, through its employee PAC, also have donated thousands of dollars to Chao’s husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, federal records show. AIG and McConnell have been major boosters of cozier trade relations with China – something that would seem to be anathema to Trump.
Together with five other corporate giants, the $26 billion-in-sales AIG formed the Business Coalition for U.S.-China Trade to help spin the press on the benefits of open trade with China.
AIG, with offices in Shanghai, is a major client of Henry A. Kissinger, who has gotten rich as a paid consultant for U.S. companies seeking greater access to China.
“Hank Greenberg is Kissinger’s money bags,” said the Hill aide, who asked not to be named.
McConnell and Greenberg also appear to be close.
The senator has given paid speeches for AIG, and he has stepped in on its behalf in federal disputes.
In 1987, for example, McConnell tried to spare AIG from having to pay claims on the $200 million policy it underwrote for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. The bugged building had to be rebuilt.
Like Chao, Greenberg was one of the “Bush Pioneers,” responsible for raising more than $100,000 for the president-elect’s campaign. Bush’s father, one-time U.S. ambassador to China, took the insurance magnate along with him on his ’92 trade mission to Asia.
Does anyone even remember Chinagate? WND reported back in 2001 that a review of financial assets held by Chao and her husband, McConnell, reveals she has served as a director of an insurance company that jointly owns a Lippo Group subsidiary with the Chinese government. Indonesia-based Lippo is controlled by the Riady family and was at the center of the Clinton Chinagate fundraising scandal.
Lippo chief executive James T. Riady agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of defrauding the U.S. government by funneling donations to the campaign of Bill Clinton – and others.
Senate financial-disclosure records show that Chao held a seat on the board of Protective Life Corp., which owns 50 percent of CRC Protective Life Insurance. Lippo co-owns the rest of the Hong Kong-based unit with China Resources Holdings Co., an intelligence-gathering front company for China’s People’s Liberation Army.
Speaking of foreign trade, remember the TransPacific Partnership, or TPP, and all the Trump campaign promises about killing it?
While Trump swept to power by denouncing TPP, McConnell announced in 2015 that he would surrender Congress’ ability to amend the agreement and permit the Obama administration to work out the details. TPP became so unpopular during the 2016 election that even Hillary Clinton had to come out against it.
The sweeping secretly negotiated agreement, by some accounts, would have affected everything Americans eat, every drug they take and every BTU of energy they use.
“A wag would be forgiven for saying the TransPacific Partnership describes the majority leader’s marriage to Elaine Chao,” wrote anti-TPP activist Curtis Ellis, a WND columnist. “The former Chinese Communist Party boss Jiang Zemin is a close family friend of Elaine Chao’s, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has praised her father for building up China’s industry. (Shipping to and from China is the Chao family business.) Lest we forget, Jiang Zemin is the hardliner who took power following the Tienanmen Square massacre and is notorious for repressing religious minorities and Tibetans. Jiang’s been indicted for genocide and is fighting to hold on to his corrupt fiefdom in Shanghai. Some friend.”
So what has Chao been up to more recently?
Chao served on the board of directors of Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation started by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, another anti-Trumper who flirted with the notion of running a third-party candidacy against him. Bloomberg gives the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign $50 million a year. The objective? To end the country’s reliance on “dirty coal, plant-by-plant, community-by-community, state-by-state.” Trump promised to put the coal miners back to work.
Chao has also served on the board of Wells Fargo, which has bankrolled anti-coal efforts. Ironic since McConnell’s home state is Kentucky – coal country.
Chao was selected by Bush to head the Labor Department after his first choice, Linda Chavez, withdrew from consideration over charges she harbored an illegal alien in 1992. Chao, 63, a Taiwanese immigrant, has also served as chairwoman of the Federal Maritime Commission. She became director of the Peace Corps in 1991 and led the United Way of America from 1992-1996.
One thing is for certain: She won’t have any trouble getting Senate confirmation. Even her husband says he won’t abstain from voting for her.