Since she became the third wife of U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a June 2017 ceremony presided over by Vice President Mike Pence—in front of a glittering political crowd that included President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania—Louise Linton has become infamous in Washington, D.C., mostly for her public relations gaffes.
That includes an August 2017 trip to Kentucky to visit Fort Knox, where she posted pictures to Instagram in which she tagged the pricey designer fashions she was wearing, then defended herself against aghast commenters by bragging about how much they “sacrifice” by paying taxes each year. Vanity Fair headlined their report: “Mnuchin’s Wife Goes Full Marie Antoinette in Instagram Meltdown.”
She later apologized. “I wish I could take it back,” Linton told Elle magazine in February 2018. “I wasn’t thinking about who I am. I wasn’t thinking, I am the wife of this person and thus I should act like the wife of this person.”
No wonder Linton has been spending a lot of time in recent months in Los Angeles, a continent away from Washington, D.C. Linton is working on low-budget genre movies—including Me, You, Madness, which she wrote, produced and stars in—seeking to reignite a stumbling career and build her company.
Last week, the Hollywood Reporter wrote that, “Linton clearly wants to leave controversy behind, focusing on establishing herself in Hollywood and positioning her company as unhindered by the politics that define the administration in which her husband serves.”
However, it turns out political controversy continues to dog her. Just days ago, the U.S. Ethics Office declined to certify Mnuchin’s 2018 financial disclosure form because of questions about Linton’s role as his partner in an independent movie company from which he was required to divest interest to avoid a conflict of interest.
“Mnuchin in 2017 sold his stake in StormChaser Partners to his then-fiancée, Louise Linton, as part of a series of divestments before becoming Treasury secretary,” reports the New York Times. “Since they are now married, government ethics rules consider the asset to be owned by Mr. Mnuchin, potentially creating a conflict of interest.”
Mnuchin, who says he got approval from a Treasury Department ethics official, recently signed a modified ethics agreement promising not to do anything related to or for that company.
The Treasury’s assistant general counsel, Brian J. Sonfield, in support of Mnuchin, wrote in a letter to the ethics office that Linton’s ownership of the business is “consistent with all applicable ethics laws and regulations.” Treasury spokesman Tony Sayegh also tweeted the statement.
— Tony Sayegh (@TreasurySpox) April 4, 2019
The government has begrudgingly agreed.
“In a letter to Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the chairman of the Finance Committee,” writes the New York Times, “the ethics office said that it could not certify Mr. Mnuchin’s report but that because he had modified his ethics agreement and agreed to recuse himself from matters that might affect StormChaser’s film business, he and Ms. Linton could continue to hold the asset.”
However, that may not be the end of it. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), “said that he remained baffled by how the Treasury and the ethics office handled the matter.”
“Rather than divest,” said Wyden “he violated the spirit of his ethics agreement by selling his interest to his then-fiancée and then he violated the letter of the agreement when he reacquired the assets upon their marriage.”
Sen. Wyden has also raised questions about whether Mnuchin violated his ethics requirement when he divested from Dune Entertainment, a hedge fund that financed studio movies, most notably through a $450 million pact with Warner Bros.
After he was announced as Trump’s pick for Treasury in late 2016, Mnuchin appointed Linton as CEO of Dune. Wyden said he was concerned because putting Linton in charge “undermined” the purpose of Mnuchin’s divestment.
A Treasury spokesperson said, according to THR, “Linton was not being paid, had no financial interest in Dune, and would step down when Mnuchin finished selling his assets.”
While Linton may have gotten a lot of bad press, her husband—known for being very private and press shy—still believes “she can do no wrong,” according to Elle. “He’ll say, ‘OK, honey, maybe we don’t do this,” Linton herself recalled of his reaction after the Instagram flap. “But he’s never harsh or critical, and he sees the humanity in me.”
Based on all they still face, that appreciation is likely to be tested again in the future.
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