Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may have been making a flippant comment about one of the movies he produced, but it has ethics watchdogs wondering if the Trump administration official violated federal rules prohibiting the promotion of products.
It stems from a Friday morning event sponsored by Axios, when Mnuchin, who had a career as a major financier of movies before being named Trump’s treasury secretary, was asked about his Hollywood output.
“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,” Mnuchin said. “But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.'”
Mnuchin is one of the executive producers on the movie, which was financed by his RatPac-Dune Entertainment.
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. It asked that the Treasury Department’s ethics official look into whether Mnuchin’s remarks violated federal law. The group also asked that the Office of Government Ethics monitor the Treasury Department’s probe.
But a spokesman for the Department of the Treasury said that “as his statement reflects, the Secretary clearly recognized that he generally may not promote private interests and specifically gave the legal disclosure that he was not promoting a movie, but answering a question he was asked directly.”
Conway, an adviser to Trump, was found to have violated ethics rules by the Office of Government Ethics for an appearance on “Fox & Friends” in which she urged viewers to buy Ivanka Trump’s product line. Her comments were in response to Nordstrom deciding to drop Trump’s line, citing poor sales.
Federal law bans federal employees from using their public office for private gain, and from using their title to endorse and “product, service or enterprise.”
As he was going through the confirmation process, Mnuchin said that he would divest his holdings in RatPac-Dune within 120 days of confirmation.
Richard Painter, professor at the University of Minnesota and chief ethics lawyer under President George W. Bush, said that it didn’t matter that Mnuchin prefaced what he said by citing federal guidelines. “He stated the ethics rule (the same one Kellyanne Conway violated) and then immediately violated it,” Painter said.