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Did Treasury Secretary Mnuchin cross ethical line in plugging 'The Lego Batman Movie'? A senator wants to know

Did Treasury Secretary Mnuchin cross ethical line in plugging 'The Lego Batman Movie'? A senator wants to know
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to the media at the White House on Feb. 14. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)

A Democratic senator wants to know if Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin committed an ethics violation when he publicly plugged "The Lego Batman Movie," a film in which he has a financial stake.

A former Hollywood financier, Mnuchin was asked at the end of a question-and-answer session on Friday hosted by the Axios news website to name a movie people should see.

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"Well, 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 at the event, which aired on C-SPAN2.

"But you should send all your kids to 'Lego Batman,' " he said.

The crowd laughed.

But Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, wasn't amused. He's asking the U.S. Office of Government Ethics to look into the comments.

"The American people deserve to know whether Secretary Mnuchin violated his promise to sever financial ties with Hollywood or if he's instead using the government to increase his own bottom line," Wyden said.

On Monday, he wrote to Walter Shaub, the director of the ethics office, asking him to review whether Mnuchin violated his personal ethics agreement or a broader regulation prohibiting federal employees from using their office "to endorse any product, service or enterprise."

That is the same regulation that White House adviser Kellyanne Conway ran afoul of when she made a pitch for Ivanka Trump's fashion line.

"Lego Batman" was produced by Ratpac-Dune Entertainment, a company Mnuchin founded and in which he still holds a financial stake, Wyden said.

"I am concerned that Sec. Mnuchin's comments may be seen to have a predictable effect on the financial interests of the entity," Wyden wrote.

A Treasury spokesperson on Monday downplayed the incident.

"It was a lighthearted moment and comment. Secretary Mnuchin directly acknowledged and understood the ethics law involved," the spokesperson said.

In an ethics agreement Mnuchin filed with the ethics office in January, he promised to divest his interests in RatPac-Dune within 120 days of his Senate confirmation.

Mnuchin also agreed he would not "participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that to my knowledge has a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the entity until I have divested it" or obtained a waiver or exemption, according to the agreement.

Mnuchin was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 13.

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Wyden said Mnuchin hasn't provided the Finance Committee any notice that he has divested. He is required to notify the committee, which has oversight over the Treasury Department, Wyden said.

A spokesman for the ethics office did not respond to a request for comment.

Conway was criticized in February for promoting Ivanka Trump's clothing and accessory line during a TV interview from the White House. Deputy White House counsel Stefan Passantino wrote to the ethics office saying Conway had "acted inadvertently and is highly unlikely to do so again."

The White House, which is responsible for disciplining its employees, said Conway would face no punishment.

Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera

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