Public servants are supposed to serve the public, not themselves. What part of that equation does Steven Mnuchin not understand?
The Trump administration’s Treasury secretary is in hot water again. On Sept. 13, ABC News reported that the Treasury Department’s inspector general’s office was looking at his request that a government jet fly him and his new wife on their European honeymoon. The jet costs taxpayers roughly $25,000 an hour to operate. Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker, is worth more than $300 million
A Treasury spokesman said Mnuchin made the request, later withdrawn, because he needed the jet’s “secure communications.” Since Mnuchin is fifth in line of succession should anything happen to the president, this excuse was at least a tad more credible than the one offered for a ride he took with his wife, Louise Linton, in August that is also under official review.
That trip was to Kentucky, where the couple could view the solar eclipse in the path of totality. The justification then was that Mnuchin wanted to speak with Kentuckians about tax reform and he needed to check on the gold at Fort Knox, which is presumably as safe and sound after Mnuchin’s inspection as it was when he got there.
Taxpayers, who are being reimbursed for Linton’s travel, may never have known about that junket had she not decided to use a photo of herself alighting from the plane to show off her Hermes, Valentino and Tom Ford ensemble on Instagram. She then savaged a woman from Oregon who dared call the move “#deplorable.” As the clothes designers began distancing themselves, Linton apologized to America – in an interview with a Washington society magazine that ran a photo of her, in a ball gown, on the cover.
Mnuchin comes from a world where rich people get free stuff all the time. Now he is in a different world, one where taxpayers are on the hook. “We’re starting to see a pattern with Steve Mnuchin,” says Walter Shaub, former chief of the Office of Government Ethics, now at the Campaign Legal Center. “This is the tone from the top, that President Trump himself has set: Ethics doesn’t matter, and high positions of public trust come with perks.”
The Mnuchins, along with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, have lost no time establishing themselves as one of the most rapacious “It” couples in Washington. The “Moochin’ Mnuchins” were a hot topic on social media last week, as commenters reviewed the pair’s outrages, the latest dubbed the “Love Jet.”
Mnuchin was among the first administration grifters to draw attention from government ethics officials when he failed to disclose $95 million in assets, including houses in the Hamptons and Los Angeles and a New York City co-op, on his financial disclosure form.
An innocent oversight, he said. Then, in a media interview, he first acknowledged that as a Cabinet member he couldn’t “promote anything that I’m involved in,” then added, “but you should all send your kids to ‘Lego Batman’” (a movie he produced). He then found himself apologizing again, sort of, in a memo to the ethics office, saying, “It was not my intention to make a product endorsement.”
Linton, who grew up in a Scottish castle, used her gap-year stint as an aid worker in Africa as fodder for a book in which she called herself a “skinny white Muzungu with long angel hair,” writing, “I try to remember a smiling gaptoothed child with HIV whose greatest joy was to sit on my lap and drink from a bottle of Coca-Cola.”
But hey, it’s not like it’s all play and no work for Mnuchin. He’s been spending plenty of time on Capitol Hill, negotiating, mostly with himself, on a tax reform proposal about which very little is known except that it will probably include tax cuts for wealthy people like him.
Last week, he tried to sell to skeptical conservatives Trump’s Chuck-and-Nancy deal – the one with the Democratic leaders of the Senate and House to raise the debt ceiling. He was dismissed as a politically clueless former Democratic donor.
This Treasury secretary’s ethical problems make Tim Geithner’s nanny tax issues look quaint. Steven Mnuchin might be a darling on Wall Street; so far, he’s a disgrace as a public servant.
Elizabeth Williamson is an editorial observer and editorial board member at The New York Times. Reach her c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 620 8th Ave., New York, NY 10018. © 2017 New York Times News Service