WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday (March 31) expressed regret for telling moviegoers to check out his latest Hollywood film, The Lego Batman Movie, in a possible violation of ethics rules.
Mnuchin told an audience of reporters in Washington last week that they should "all send your kids" to see the film, for which he is credited as an executive producer.
The Treasury secretary at the time stipulated that he was "not promoting any product." However, Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, asked the Office of Government Ethics to review the matter.
In a letter to the ethics watchdog on Friday, Mnuchin said he had been mistaken to encourage people to see the film during an interview with the website Axios.
Mnuchin said he had used "words that could reasonably have been interpreted to encourage the questioner to see a film with which I was associated." "I should not have made that statement," he wrote, adding that he had received an ethics briefing on taking office and would schedule a followup.
"I fully appreciate the core ethics principle that public office is a public trust and that no employee may use his office for his own or others' private gain." Mnuchin has promised to divest himself of his holdings within four months of taking office.
The events marked at least the second time an administration member faced scolding for using public office to promote consumer products.
The White House said last month it had "counseled" Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway after she used a television appearance to endorse a clothing and accessories line created by the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump.
The Trump administration has faced persistent controversy over potential conflicts of interest due to the president's sprawling business interests.
By contrast, in 2015, ethics rules prevented Deputy US Trade Representative Michael Punke from discussing or attending screenings of the Leonardo DiCaprio thriller The Revenant, which was based on a novel Punke had written in his spare time.
Lego Batman is so far the third-highest grossing film of 2017, having taken in US$171.7 million (S$24.7 million) since opening last month, according to Box Office Mojo.
Including Lego Batman, Mnuchin is credited as an executive producer on five films slated for release in 2017, among them "The Lego Ninjago Movie," an animated feature starring Olivia Munn and Justin Theroux.