U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin has blocked the release of a video that shows him being heckled at UCLA, causing the initially little-noticed incident to go viral.
Mnuchin was being interviewed by Kai Ryssdal, host of the public radio show "Marketplace," which focuses on news about business and the economy. About 400 people attended the free event Monday at the UCLA Anderson School of Management's Korn Convocation Hall, said Peggy McInerny, a university spokeswoman.
Mnuchin's appearance was arranged under the auspices of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations, which had an agreement with the Treasury Department that video would be posted on the center's website. But department officials "subsequently withdrew the consent," said McInerny.
"To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we have been asked not to post a video of an event," she said.
But Mnuchin's action did not squelch the spread of news about the unexpectedly uncomfortable Q&A.
Quite the contrary.
People in attendance began posting cellphone video, which spread fast, and the event itself had been recorded for broadcast by "Marketplace," which was outside Mnuchin's control.
"Marketplace" staff posted an edited transcript, which noted that the audience hissed when Ryssdal asked: "What was it about the president's approach to the American economy that made you say, 'I want to work for this guy?'"
"I think they're going to get more tired than I am," Mnuchin responded, referring to the hecklers.
"Fat chance" yelled an audience member.
"I'm dealing with students, I forgot," Mnuchin responded. "There's a lot of students."
Audio of the exchange suggests that Mnuchin was attempting to respond with humor — and there was some laughter. Though at a different point in the interview, Mnuchin bristled at Ryssdal's questions and accused the radio host of bias.
Mnuchin lives in Bel-Air, but has not always gotten warm welcomes on his home turf since he became a member of the Trump campaign team and then a key official in the Trump administration.
In late December, someone attempted to leave a gift-wrapped box of horse manure at Mnuchin's home. A local psychologist took credit for the deed, posting pictures on Facebook, including a note to "Stevie" and a card from "The American People" that read: "We're returning the 'gift' of the Christmas tax bill. It's [expletive]."
When a neighbor spotted the box, police cordoned off the area for several hours and called in the bomb squad. Investigators dumped the manure but retained the box and accompanying note as evidence. To date, no one has faced any charges.
At UCLA, Mnuchin had the added misfortune of being questioned by a sixth-grader in the audience, who said to him: "You helped cut taxes for the wealthy, which makes them even richer. The middle-class tax cuts are small and last for just eight years. But the corporate tax cut was permanent. How is that just?"
The student got a big round of applause.
"The fact is we were able to fix a broken system, make America competitive, and create middle-income tax cuts," Mnuchin responded, to more hissing.
"And" he continued, "you can hiss all you want, but for the people who are getting these tax cuts, they're not hissing."
Then he tried a lighter tone: "I'm not getting a tax cut, by the way. I live in California."
"Marketplace" posted the full audio online Wednesday at Marketplace.org. The Wall Street Journal first reported Treasury officials' refusal to allow the video's release.
The interview was not a complete disaster. Mnuchin's initial comment drew some applause.
"Let me first say," said Mnuchin, "I consider it a great honor to serve the country."