Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may have violated federal ethics rules when he used his taxpayer-funded position to promote his own commercial interests – and non-partisan ethics watchdog American Oversight has called for an investigation.
On Friday, March 24, Mr. Mnuchin spoke at a public event and urged the audience and those watching on C-SPAN to “send all your kids to Lego Batman,” a movie for which he served as an executive producer. Mr. Mnuchin appeared to know that he was crossing the line, prefacing his remarks with a meaningless disclaimer: “I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in… you’ve asked me the question, and I am not promoting any product.”
“Even when they clearly know the rules, Trump administration officials clearly feel they aren’t bound by them,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “This is what happens when people like Kellyanne Conway face no consequences for their actions: a disturbing culture of impunity. This casual habit of self-promotion bodes ill for when the administration embarks on large-scale projects with billions of American tax dollars at stake.”
The Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch speaks plainly to this situation – and it applies even in cases where an employee acknowledges in advance that he plans to break the rules:
An employee shall not use his public office for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product . . . or for the private gain of friends, relatives, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity, including . . . persons with whom the employee has or seeks employment or business relations.
Even more specifically, the Ethical Standards bar an employee from using his position or authority to induce another person to provide a financial benefit to himself or others with whom he is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.
This is not the first time that Mr. Mnuchin has been in trouble for his ethical conduct. Earlier this year during his Senate confirmation hearing, Mnuchin was forced to admit that he had failed to disclose over $100 million in assets.
On Friday, American Oversight sent a letter to the Treasury Department’s top ethics official and asked for an investigation into whether Mr. Mnuchin’s remarks violated federal law. American Oversight also wrote to the Office of Government Ethics asking for that office to monitor the Treasury Department’s investigation.
You can view and download the letters below.