McConnell has direct line to Trumpland for Kentucky bigwigs and contributors: his spouse Elaine Chao
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to have a pretty great setup right now. He's in a position to give the Trump administration much of what the Russia asset wants, and the administration can return the favor. It helps that Elaine Chao, Trump's transportation secretary, is also married to McConnell. That's good for his re-election prospects, it turns out, because Chao is in a position to help him out by granting all kinds of projects for Kentucky, his home state.
Politico reports on a review by watchdog group American Oversight, which has obtained more than 800 pages of emails detailing communications between McConnell's office and Chao's. Chao has taken at least 10 meetings with politicians and business leaders from Kentucky, apparently in response to requests from her husband. And in some of those cases, the people got what they were asking for, «including infrastructure grants, the designation of an interstate highway and assistance in getting state funds for a highway project.» Among those he arranged meetings for are friends, former staffers, and big campaign donors, like maritime industry lobbyist Jim Adams (who is married to Kentucky state senator Julie Raque Adams, who conveniently used to work for McConnell. The Adamses donated $1,500 to McConnell's 2014 reelection campaign, according to FEC filings).
«We launched this investigation because we were intrigued by the president's selection of Elaine Chao as Transportation secretary,» executive director and founder of American Oversight Austin Evers told Politico. «The media and political class identified it as a savvy move to hire the spouse of the majority leader of the Senate. We wanted to see what that relationship looked like.» What it looks like, he said, is that «Secretary Chao built a political operation in her office to favor Kentucky.»
While it's not uncommon for Cabinet officials and their designees to meet with home-state political and business leaders, Evers says that it looks like Chao and her staff «appear to go out of their way to make McConnell's Kentucky contacts 'feel special.'» Evidenced by one email from March 2017 requesting a meeting for Kentuckians for Better Transportation in which McConnell's representative asks that if Chao can't make the meeting, maybe «an assistant secretary or 2» could. «That way it is not taking up the Secretary's time but they feel special.» That particular meeting appeared on Chao's calendar on May 17.
McConnell's spokesperson tells Politico that «the Leader regularly advocates for Kentuckians with Members of the Cabinet and agencies of the federal government.» They don't say whether they get the same kind of results out of the rest of the Cabinet.