Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that it was “not my intention to make a product endorsement” when he told an audience at an event last week to see “Lego Batman,” on which he served as executive producer.
In a letter to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Mnuchin said that he was responding to a lighthearted question and the end of a Q&A session last week sponsored by Axios.
Asked then about his Hollywood output, Mnuchin said, “Well, I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in. So I just want to have the legal disclosure that you’ve asked me the question and I am not promoting any product. But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.'”
The flippant comment triggered criticism from ethics watchdogs.
“I should not have made that statement,” Mnuchin wrote in his letter. “I want to assure you that I was aware of the rule against using public office to promote a particular product, as I specifically acknowledged in the interview, and in responding to the question posed by the interviewer, it was not my intention to make a product endorsement.”
Mnuchin is one of the executive producers on the movie, which was financed by his RatPac-Dune Entertainment.
After he made the remark last week, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released a statement in which it said that “it’s clear that Mnuchin did not learn any lessons from the Kellyanne Conway affair. This kind of thing happened, and will continue to happen, when there is a White House that does not take disciplinary action for ethical lapses.”
Another organization, American Oversight, is calling for an investigation asked that the Office of Government Ethics monitor the Treasury Department’s probe.
In his letter to the government ethics office, Mnuchin wrote, “I want to reassure you that I will exercise greater caution to avoid any suggestion that I do not take these important rules seriously.”
In response to Mnuchin’s letter, Austin Evers, the executive director of American Oversight, said in a statement that “while we appreciate that Secretary Mnuchin is regretful, the fact that he says he knew about the law while he violated it makes his conduct worse, not better. Willfulness is worse than negligence. This is part of a pattern with Secretary Mnuchin, who lied during his confirmation hearing, somehow neglected to include 100 million dollars in assets on his ethics disclosures, and by his own admission, used his position to promote his own private venture knowing it was an ethical violation.”