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February 19, 2019

A collection of about 800 emails shared with Politico by a watchdog organization called American Oversight shows coordination between the offices of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

On at least 10 occasions, politicians, business executives, and lobbyists from the couple's home state of Kentucky have been referred by McConnell's office to Chao's office, where a meeting with the transportation secretary has been arranged. Some, but not all, of these meetings were followed by the Kentucky constituent successfully obtaining their requested grant or other assistance from Chao's department.

Politico has not obtained records to show whether Chao is more responsive to this sort of request from McConnell's office than from other congressional offices or whether she meets with Kentuckians more often than people from other states. Nevertheless, American Oversight concluded Chao has "built a political operation in her office to favor Kentucky," such that constituent requests are processed through "a normal channel and a Kentucky channel," with the latter receiving extra care.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) denied the accusation of favoritism, noting that any federal agency "would be responsive to the requests of the majority leader of the U.S. Senate," and that Chao's office "is responsive to all members [of Congress] and their staff." An unnamed Democratic Senate staffer agreed, telling Politico "DOT will talk to anyone," and "people know they can pick up the phone and call DOT themselves." Bonnie Kristian

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