Mnuchin failed to comply with ethics rules, watchdog says
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin failed to comply with federal ethics rules in the sale of his stake in a film production company to his wife, the federal government’s ethics watchdog said.
After a more than eight-month delay in reviewing Mnuchin’s 2018 financial disclosure form, the Office of Government Ethics declined to certify the secretary’s filing for neglecting to disclose that ethics officials within the Treasury Department had advised him that his stake sold to his then-fiancee, Louise Linton, would not create a conflict of interest.
Mnuchin told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing last month that department ethics officials had informed him he was allowed to sell his stake in StormChaser Productions to Linton. But the government’s ethics office took issue with the matter for not being informed of the guidance by Treasury and not approving it.
Even so, ethics officials stopped short of imposing penalties on Mnuchin given his willingness to revise his federal ethics agreement and to recuse himself from government matters that could impact his wife’s business.
“If while I am secretary the nature of StormChaser’s business practices or the types of films it owns or produces changes, I will seek further guidance from the department’s ethics official, who will consult with O.G.E.,” Mnuchin wrote in a statement Thursday evening.
The Treasury secretary sold his film and real estate businesses in 2017 for at least $15 million as part of a string of divestments to avoid conflicts of interest.
A Treasury spokesman, Tony Sayegh, tweeted a statement saying that the ethics issue was the result of “a technical difference” between federal ethics officials and Treasury’s ethics staff.
“We are pleased that OGE has approved an updated ethics agreement recognizing that he may hold an interest in that asset,” Sayegh said.
Trump’s top finance chief is not the only member of Trump’s cabinet waiting on ethics certifications.
Last month, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was found to have violated his ethics agreement, while also submitting an inaccurate financial disclosure form, according to OGE.
OGE Director Emory Rounds wrote at the time that Ross reported in his annual financial disclosure that he sold bank stock that other reports indicate he did not sell.
The brand is more of a scarlet letter than anything else — OGE does not have any punitive power, and there is no indication the president has sanctioned other cabinet officials that have been embroiled in ethics violations.
There is no indication President Donald Trump has sanctioned Ross over his failure to follow ethics rules. Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s disclosure submission was also rejected by OGE after he had resigned from office.