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WH Counsel’s Office Reportedly ‘Directed’ the Appointment of Acting IG to Agency Run by Elaine Chao

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 11: Elaine Chao testifies during her confirmation hearing to be the next U.S. secretary of transportation before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as her husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (2nd L) looks on, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill January 11, 2017 in Washington, DC. Chao, who has previously served as secretary of the Labor Department, was nominated by President-elect Donald Trump.

The late Friday announcement by the White House that Department of State Inspector General Steve Linick would be soon ejected from his job is not the only recent inspector general move within the Trump Administration that is ripe for debate.

Just as many were lamenting Linick’s imminent ouster, the White House Counsel’s Office also reportedly “directed” the installation of selected Howard “Skip” Elliott as a new “acting” inspector general for the Department of Transportation. That’s according to reporting from CNN.

Elliott is assuming the new role while serving as the administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. In that role, he was described as coming “out of retirement to enter public service” after a 40-year career as a railroad executive, most notably for CSX Transportation. At CSX, he dealt with hazardous materials, homeland security, and environmental matters, his official biography states.

CNN noted that Elliott would replace Mitch Behm, a former DOT deputy inspector general who “has been serving as the acting inspector.” Behm will return to his former role as deputy, CNN also reported. Elliott, meanwhile, is also remain head of the pipeline administration while serving as acting IG. Eric Soskin has been nominated to be the “permanent Department of Transportation Inspector General position,” per the report.

The move temporarily — yet perhaps awkwardly — puts Elliott in charge of watchdog operations while he serves as head of an administration within the broader Department of Transportation that he is now in charge of inspecting. The move is raising eyebrows on two broader fronts. First, it is being seized upon by critics of the Trump Administration to characterize the championed-as-independent inspector general ranks as beleaguered by political influence. Second, it involves a federal department managed by Elaine Chao, the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Chao’s tenure at the DOT has been itself the subject of ethics scrutiny.

CREW, an acronym for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has described Chao’s DOT as “[s]candal-plagued,” in part because of “her ethics issues.” “At least one of the scandals facing Chao is tied to the potential use of her cabinet post to bolster McConnell’s political futures,” the group said in response to the IG shuffle at DOT starting this past February.

[Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University.  He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network who now contributes to the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only.  You should not rely on it for legal advice.  Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.  This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.  Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.