WASHINGTON—Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin may be new to government, but he’s learning quickly that it’s not a good idea to make a joke that could run afoul of government ethics rules.
In a letter Friday to the head of the Office of Government Ethics, Mnuchin says it was a mistake for him last week to jokingly urge parents to send their kids to see “The Lego Batman Movie.” Mnuchin was an executive producer of the top-grossing movie, which is still in theatres.
Mnuchin said his comment, which came at the end of an hour-long public interview sponsored by the news site Axios, was meant as a joke in response to a light-hearted question about what current movies he would recommend.
At the event, Mnuchin had said, “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. But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.’ “
In his letter Friday to Walter M. Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, Mnuchin said, “I should not have made that statement. …. 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. I want to reassure you that I will exercise greater caution to avoid any suggestion that I do not take these important rules seriously.”
Treasury said in an accompanying statement that Mnuchin had made his comment in jest, and it was “not intended to be a product endorsement of any movie. We think that’s clear in context.”
Kellyanne Conway, a top White House adviser to President Donald Trump, was criticized for saying in a Feb. 9 television interview that people should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff,” a day after Trump had attacked Nordstrom department stores for dropping his daughter’s line of clothes and accessories.
Shaub wrote a letter criticizing the White House for not taking disciplinary action against Conway saying the lack of action “risks undermining the ethics program.”