Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has pledged “not participate personally and substantially in any matter that has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests” of his financial holdings, without obtaining an official waiver for doing so. He also had advance notice of how a Trump administration figure could breach ethics rules when Kellyanne Conway, in the course of criticizing organized boycotts of First Daughter Ivanka Trump’s merchandise line, blurted out “Go buy Ivanka’s stuff!” during an interview on “Fox & Friends.” The Office of Government Ethics and members of the House Oversight Committee urged disciplinary action for Conway’s clear, if probably inadvertent, ethics violation. (None occurred. It should have.)
Never mind. During a C-Span broadcast interview last week, Secretary Mnuchin was asked for a movie recommendation (this was a set-up, but an easy one to duck), and said,
“I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in. So I just want to have the legal disclosure, you’ve asked me the question, and I am not promoting any product. But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.’ “
HAHAHAHAHA!!! ‘I’m not supposed to do this because it’s unethical, but I’ll do it anyway, because ethics rules are silly, the President doesn’t care about them, and besides, Kellyanne got away with it, and so will I!’
His arrogance and stupidity are staggering. Mnuchin knows that hyper-partisan Trump-haters are searching for ways to attack and weaken the President. He knows that there will be no quarter, that Democrats and the news media are metaphorically humming the Degüello—the throat-slitting theme with which Santa Anna’s army serenaded the Alamo defenders before the slaughter. Most of all, he should know that his flip statement creates at very least the appearance of impropriety, which government employees are prohibited from doing by law. He produced “Lego Batman.” He was using his position to promote, not the President’s daughter’s fashion lines, but his own interests, which is far worse.
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is one of those humming Democrats. He is demanding an ethics probe into Mnuchin’s comments. Good. As the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden wrote a letter yesterday to Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub, expressing his concern that Mnuchin had violated the ethics agreement he signed in January. Good again. He probably did. Wyden wrote that his committee had not received any notice of Mnuchin divesting his interests in RatPac-Dune Entertainment Holdings LLC, which he agreed to do in January within 120 days of his confirmation. “I am concerned that Sec. Mnuchin’s comments, may be seen to have a predictable effect on the financial interests” of RatPac-Dune,” Wyden wrote.
But even if Mnuchin has divested as promised, his comment was unethical in many other ways:
…It appeared to flaunt the ethics rules, and made light of the violation.
…It showed his contempt for legitimate and important regulations.
…It conveyed the attitude that he, and by extension, the administration he represents, can ignore laws and ethics rules with impunity.
…It was a deliberate act benefiting a product and company with which he has undeniable ties, whether or not he personally will gain financially.
…His conduct mirrored than of an inside-trader, and mocked the seriousness of conflicts of interest, especially in his position.
The best thing President Trump could do to send a clear message that, contrary to all indications thus far, ethics and the public trust matters in his administration, would be to fire Mnuchin immediately.
If he doesn’t (and he won’t), a very different message will be sent.