Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin attempted to get ahead of a potential Lego-related violation Friday with a letter to the Office for Government Ethics.
Last week during an interview with the website Axios, Mnuchin answered a question asking if he had any movie recommendations by urging people to see “The Lego Batman Movie.” The suggestion was potentially troublesome because he was an executive producer on the film, with his name one of the first to appear in the film’s closing credits. Any additional revenue made by the film due to his recommendation as a government official would also be a financial benefit to him personally.
In his Friday letter, Mnuchin said he shouldn’t have recommended the movie.
“As a final question, the interviewer asked me specifically if I had any movie recommendations,” wrote Mnuchin. “Although I included a disclaimer indicating that it was not my intention to promote any product, I ended my response to that light-hearted question with words that could reasonably have been interpreted to encourage the questioner to see a film in which I was associated. I should not have made that statement.”
He continued: “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. When asked a similar question in a subsequent interview the next day, I refrained from providing a response and will act similarly in the future.”
Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, has been funding films since 2004 and has 38 producing credits via the Internet Movie Database, all from the last four years and including films such as “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” “Suicide Squad,” “American Sniper” and the original “Lego Movie.” He has one acting credit, a nonspeaking role in Warren Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply.”
The ethics flap echoes Kellyanne Conway’s urging of Americans to buy Ivanka Trump’s clothing products on Fox News last month. OGE Director Walter M. Shaub Jr. urged the White House to discipline Conway, but the request was declined, with White House Deputy Counsel Stefan C. Passatino stating that Conway’s statement was made in a “light, off-handed manner” and press secretary Sean Spicer saying she was “counseled” after the incident.
The OGE doesn’t have the power to investigate or subpoena, and can simply make recommendations to the White House and Congressional Ethics Committees. The office has had to attempt to deal with untangling the various business interests of the Trump administration. On Saturday, the president used his Twitter account to urge people to watch Jeanine Pirro’s Fox News program, an action White House chief of staff Reince Priebus defended after she used the show to torch House Speaker Paul Ryan. Priebus told Fox News that Trump sent the tweet “because he loves Judge Jeanine and wants to do her a favor.”
Mnuchin attempted to leave no doubt that he had learned his lesson about promoting his own cinematic work in the future.
“I want to assure you that I will exercise greater caution to avoid any suggestion that I do not take those important rules seriously,” he concluded in his letter. “I will continue to work with the [Treasury’s designated agency ethics official] and her team to support the ethics program and promote an ethical culture with in the Department of Treasury.”
Read more from Yahoo News: