Fact-checking Steven Mnuchin's comments on his FBI probe

Fact-checking Steven Mnuchin’s comments on his FBI probe

Mnuchin’s inaccurate remarks during Treasury hearing raise several more questions

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Edited by JPat Brown

A longer version of this article, touching on Mnuchin’s ties to China, appeared on Glomar Disclosure

Following my reporting of an FBI investigation potentially involving Trump’s Treasury pick Steven Mnuchin, Senator Sherrod Brown asked the FBI to release the files and made a point of bringing up the matter during Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing. While Mnuchin’s responses may not have been lies, they were not accurate and raise several more questions.

According to a transcription presented by Deadline, Senator Brown brought the matter up with Mnuchin in the context of insider loans.

One example of an insider loan was the Relativity Media deal. The FBI denied a FOIA request related to Relativity Media where you were co-chair citing law enforcement procedures. Have you been questioned by law enforcement on this?”

Mnuchin responded by denying that he had been questioned by the Bureau and that …

“I have not … I assumed that the FBI did a thorough review of my background report. I have no idea why they didn’t approve the FOIA issue. I’ve been told that we have no reason to believe that it’s any issue associated with me. I would direct that (question) to the FBI.”

You can watch the exchange below:

In the full context, Mnuchin seemed to imply that the FBI investigation into Relativity Media may have simply been part of the background check. This is not the case, however.

The FBI’s response does not simply refer to it as an “investigative file” but rather as an investigative file “compiled for law enforcement purposes,” stating that “there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding.” This is neither the language nor the exemption that would be cited for a background check, which would fall under either b(1) or b(6) instead of b(7)A. That it was not the result of a background check is supported by the fact that no information on this was provided to the Senate, and it wasn’t included in the background report that they received from the FBI.

The fact that the FBI’s investigation is not simply a background check is further supported by the fact that they cited no exemptions for the file on another one of Mnuchin’s media companies, RatPac-Dune Entertainment. In addition to the language and exemption codes used by the FBI indicating the investigation isn’t part of a routine background check, there’s no reason to believe that the FBI would have looked at one of his companies but not the other.

Mnuchin’s statement “I’ve been told that we have no reason to believe that it’s any issue associated with me” also raises several questions. When did Mnuchin first become aware of the investigation? Who has he spoken to about it? Was he told this by the FBI, someone in law enforcement, or one of his lawyers? Was this “no reason to believe” based on ignorance (i.e. “no one’s told us you’re being investigated”) which would make the assurance somewhat hollow, or based on specific knowledge (i.e. “we have information about the investigation”) that remains private?

If it is the latter and Mnuchin (understandably and respectably) decided not to reveal details of an ongoing investigation in a public forum, there will be no reason that he cannot address this to the Senators in closed door meetings.

For now, all we can do is wait until the FBI responds to the appeal for the release of the file. Senator Brown’s letter the FBI is embedded below:

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Image via PBS