The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee is accusing Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin of violating federal ethics law by publicly promoting the film LEGO Batman, which his own company produced.
In a live interview with the news site Axios on Friday, Mnuchin was asked by an audience member to recommend a movie, to which he replied: “I am not promoting any product, but you should send all your kids to see LEGO Batman.” Mnuchin added that Avatar, another film his company produced, is his “favorite movie.”
It is unclear whether Mnuchin has fully divested from his company, Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, or whether he continues to personally profit from films like LEGO Batman.
When Mnuchin’s was nominated to run the Treasury Department in January, he signed an ethics agreement promising the following: “Within 120 days of my confirmation, I will divest my interests in Ratpac-Dune Entertainment Holdings LLC.” He was confirmed in February, making it possible that he continues to profit from the company’s films today.
“Secretary Mnuchin has provided the [Senate Finance] Committee no evidence that he has divested his interests in Ratpac-Dune Entertainment Holdings LLC, and I assume he still holds this interest,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who wrote a letter Monday to the Office of Government Ethics to complain about Mnuchin’s LEGO Batman plug.
Noting that federal ethics laws forbid every government employee from making “use of his Government position or title or any authority associated with his public office to endorse any product, service or enterprise,” Wyden said Mnuchin’s comments “signal a blatant disregard and disrespect to the office he serves and the power it holds.”
The Treasury Department issued a statement defending Mnuchin on Friday, saying: “He was not promoting a movie, but answering a question he was asked directly.”
Wyden is demanding the Office of Government Ethics review the incident and report back to his committee on whether a violation took place.
Other members of the Trump administration, including White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, have used their platform to give a “free commercial” to companies with which they have financial ties. After Conway urging Fox News viewers to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” the Office of Government Ethics called for her to be disciplined. She was only “counseled” by the White House, a response the OGE warned “risks undermining the ethics program.” Ivanka Trump herself has been sued for unfair competition. The lawsuit notes that sales of her clothing and jewelry line have shot through the roof since her father became president.
And President Trump has also been accused of using the presidency to elevate his companies and brands by routinely patronizing his own hotels and golf clubs, in possible violation of federal ethics laws.