Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended his comments last week promoting the “Lego Batman” movie, which he financed, in a letter to the Office of Government Ethics obtained by NBC News.
Mnuchin acknowledged that he should not have made the comment (federal employees are prohibited from using their jobs to sell products), but said “it was not my intention to make a product endorsement.” Mnuchin says in the letter that he takes his ethical responsibilities seriously.
The letter comes after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, requested the ethics office review the treasury secretary’s comments.
In an interview last week, Mnuchin plugged his “Lego Batman” movie with a wink. “I’m not allowed to promote anything that I’m involved in. So I just want to have the legal disclosure, you’ve asked me the question, and I am not promoting any product,” he said, before delivering the punchline: “But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.’”
In a Friday letter to Wyden, the OGE said that, given Mnuchin’s statement of regret, the incident didn’t warrant further action. Indeed, the OGE said it was Mnuchin’s contrition and promise not to make similar statements in the future that set his comments apart from White House advisor Kellyanne Conway’s comments promoting Ivanka Trump’s brand.
In a statement to NBC News, a Treasury Department spokesman said Mnuchin’s plug for his movie was “made in jest and not intended to be a product endorsement of the Lego Batman movie. We think that’s clear in context.”
And that is indeed a fair description of what Mnuchin was doing. As the president uses the highest public office to enrich his family business and a top aide is allowed by the White House counsel to promote the family’s products without consequence, it’s also refreshingly honest to hear the Trump administration say that ethics rules are officially a joke.
The OGE declined to respond to a request for comment.
This article has been updated with details from an OGE letter to Sen. Ron Wyden.