Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin raised eyebrows recently when — in the face of federal ethics rules — he suggested that parents should take their kids to see the LEGO Batman Movie, one of many films on which the former Goldman Sachs executive has a producer credit. Mnuchin has already tried to downplay the incident, but today he officially told a government ethics watchdog that he won’t do it again, for real.
In a letter [PDF] to the Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Mnuchin restates his contention that he was simply answering a direct question when some say he committed the ethical no-no of using public office for private gain.
At a televised event for Axios, the host had finished the interview by asking Mnuchin to recommend a movie to see.
“Well, I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in,” Mnuchin admitted, indicating his awareness of the ethics rule, “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.”
Today’s letter acknowledges that maybe the phrase “send all your kids to LEGO Batman” could have been interpreted as Mnuchin “encourag[ing] the questioner to see a film with which I was associated.”
“I should not have made that statement,” he writes. “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 says he subsequently responded to a similar question without mentioning LEGO Batman, Suicide Squad, Keanu, Batman v Superman, Mad Max: Fury Road, Sully, or any of the dozens of other movies he was involved in during his brief but prolific dalliance with Hollywood.
“I fully appreciate the core ethics principle that public office is a public trust and that no employee may use his office for his own or others’ private gain,” said the Secretary. “I want to reassure you that I will exercise greater caution to avoid any suggestion that I do not take these important rules seriously.”
Mnuchin’s movie comment would probably not have received such scrutiny had they not come shortly after White House counselor Kellyanne Conway exhorted shoppers on national TV to purchase apparel from Ivanka Trump’s clothing line.