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Politics

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin Says He Was Wrong For Promoting ‘Lego Batman Movie’

When are you NOT allowed to promote an animated feature?

When you are a film producer who also happens to the Treasury Secretary of the United States.

In a public interview on March 24, Treasury Secretary — and movie producer — Steven Mnuchin, in response to a request for movie recommendations, suggested that parents send their kids to see Warner Bros.’ animated feature The Lego Batman Movie.

Though Mnuchin is an executive producer of The Lego Batman Movie, his comments run afoul of federal law prohibiting government officials from using their office to promote private interests, a rule Mnuchin acknowledged he understood immediately prior to making his promotional pitch, saying, “I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in.” He then promoted something he was involved in. Here is a clip of the incident:

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the leading Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, immediately complained that Mnuchin’s remarks showed a “blatant disregard and disrespect to the office he serves,” according to CNN. (The Senate Finance Committee has jurisdiction over many of the activities of the Treasury Department, including taxation and tariffs.) Wyden also wrote a letter to the Office of Government Ethics requesting a review and a report on Mnuchin’s comments.

Now, one week later, with the controversy over his remarks still swirling, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin likewise wrote a letter (below) to the Office of Government Ethics claiming that “it was not my intention to promote any product” and acknowledging that he should not have made the comments. He also promised to meet with the Treasury Department’s Designated Agency Ethics Official to discuss ethics rules.

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After graduating from Yale University, Mnuchin began his career in banking and finance, working for Goldman Sachs until 2002. He then left Goldman Sachs to start a hedge fund.

In 2013 he formed Ratpac-Dune Entertainment alongside Rush Hour director Brett Ratner and Australian billionaire James Packer, financing the production of movies (Mnuchin had been financing movies since the mid-2000s when he started Dune Entertainment). He earned his first executive producer credit with The Lego Movie in 2014, and was executive producer of Mad Max: Fury Road in 2015 and the animated film Storks in 2016, among dozens of other credits.

He currently holds a stake in 85 past and future Warner Bros. motion pictures, including the upcoming Lego Ninjago Movie. Such a stake includes an interest in the movie’s copyright as well as a portion of the movie’s profits. By promoting The Lego Batman Movie, Mnuchin may have helped the movie to increase its overall sales, and in return Mnuchin would have increased his own profits from the movie.

Mnuchin, who was the national finance chairman for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, has promised to divest himself of his interests in RatPac-Dune within four months of his confirmation as Treasury Secretary.

The Treasury Secretary’s promotional remarks hold increased significance due to the mire of ethics concerns from which the Trump Administration cannot seem to extract itself. These concerns range from President Trump’s own interests in his many business holdings, placed in a revocable trust but, as reported by the New York Times, with his son Donald Trump, Jr. and Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg as trustees, to Trump’s close political advisor and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway promoting Ivanka Trump’s products on the television show Fox & Friends, suggesting that people” go buy Ivanka’s stuff…it’s a wonderful line” of products. Ivanka Trump has a line of clothing and accessories and last week took an unpaid role as special adviser to her father, which in itself has raised concerns about violations of a 1967 federal law against nepotism in government.

The Lego Batman Movie earned $3.1 million from March 24-March 30, the week immediately following Mnuchin’s comments. It was a decline of around 50%, typical for a film in its seventh week of theatrical release. The movie’s domestic box office total through yesterday stands at over $172 million, and $295 million worldwide.

Walter Shaub, Jr. the head of the government ethics office, last Friday wrote to Senator Wyden, saying that, in light of Mnuchin’s letter, he did not think further disciplinary action was necessary.

  • LeeFW

    as much as I hate the current administration, I gotta agree, Lego Batman would be my first recommendation

    • Barrett

      Lego Batmand and Kong: Skull Island have been pretty much the only great movies to come out so far this year (not counting any Oscar nominees, they all technically came out last year.)

  • Pedro Nakama

    Still not as bad as when Nixon’s treasury secretary George Shultz recommended everyone see Last Tango in Paris. Or was that Deep Throat?

  • Too Many Cooks

    It was definitely a joke, but not a good one to make. I’m glad he owned up to it and I hope this controversy dies down.

  • Tony

    And this, my fellow Americans, is why business men shouldn’t go into politics.

    • Too Many Cooks

      You’re right, we should put in more career politicians, or maybe people who have no experience in anything at all.

      • ZING!

      • Barrett

        Career politicians? As in “people who actually know what they’re doing in government?”

        The reflexive knock against “career politicians” is kind of like denigrating the guy you go to repair your car as a “career auto mechanic.” Why give him your business? Go ask your neighbor you BBQ with to fix the car instead! Who cares that he’s a lawyer?

        That said, I do support electing more people who have previously worked as civil servants of some kind to higher office, instead of millionaires, lawyers and pundits.

  • otterhead

    I admit, it was very bizarre to see the Treasury Secretary’s name pop up in the credits of Lego Batman.

  • Barrett

    Jeez, what a smirking putz. He knew exactly what he was doing, and thought he’d be cute about it.

    Far from the worst infraction committed by this administration, but certainly another black mark.