WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee asked the government ethics watchdog on Monday to review comments by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin plugging “The Lego Batman Movie,” a film one of his companies produced, for a possible ethics violation.
In a letter to Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub, Senator Ron Wyden said he was concerned that Mnuchin had violated his ethics agreement signed in January in his comments on Friday at the end of a live interview with the Axios news website.
Mnuchin had agreed to divest his interests in Ratpac-Dune Entertainment Holdings LLC within 120 days of his confirmation, and “not participate personally and substantially in any matter that has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the entity” unless first obtaining a waiver.
RatPac-Dune, co-founded by Mnuchin with producer-director Brett Rattner and media billionaire James Packer, has produced and financed a number of Hollywood hits in recent years, including “Avatar,” “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “The Lego Batman Movie.”
At the Axios event, Mnuchin was asked in a question from a reader for a movie recommendation.
“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,” Mnuchin said. “But you should send all your kids to ‘Lego Batman.’”
The comment drew laughter from the audience at the Washington event.
Wyden said the Finance Committee had received no notifications regarding Mnuchin’s holdings in RatPac-Dune and assumed the Treasury chief still held that interest.
“I am concerned that Sec. Mnuchin’s comments, may be seen to have a predictable effect on the financial interests” of RatPac-Dune, Wyden said in his letter.
In a statement, a Treasury spokesman said: “As his statement reflects, the Secretary clearly recognized that he generally may not promote private interests and specifically gave the legal disclosure that he was not promoting a movie, but answering a question he was asked directly.”
The OGE recommended last month that the White House should consider disciplinary action against President Donald Trump’s adviser Kellyanne Conway for her on-air comment on Fox News Channel promoting the clothing and jewelry line of Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump. Conway said people “should go buy Ivanka’s stuff.”
The White House later told the ethics watchdog that Conway had acted “inadvertently” and without “nefarious motive or intent to benefit personally.”
Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Peter Cooney