US government sued over access to Trump-era Treasury chief Mnuchin's Middle East travel expenses
An accountability watchdog organisation is suing the US Treasury Department over access to records on the costs of Steven Mnuchin’s trips to countries in the Middle East and any communication he had with sovereign wealth funds in the region.
Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), an accountability watchdog organisation, filed the lawsuit on 18 May, around two months after they filed a Freedom of Information Act request to access these records with no response. This follows news in late February that Mnuchin was starting a Middle East-focused investment fund.
"People deserve to know if he was using his position for his future endeavors," Jenna Grande, press secretary for CREW told The New Arab.
"The documents will give us a better picture of what’s going on," she said. "We haven’t heard a response. That’s why we’re suing."
Prior to the end of his work as treasury secretary in Donald Trump’s administration, he took trips to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. In October, he was part of a delegation to the region to expand commercial ties following the Abraham Accords, which saw several Arab countries - including the UAE and Bahrain - normalise relations with Israel. The Gulf holds some of the world's largest sovereign wealth funds, largely due to their oil wealth.
According to the lawsuit: "The reports of Mnuchin’s planned investment effort, coming so soon after leaving office, raise concerns over whether Mnuchin’s future pursuits may have influenced Trump administration policy."
Just over a month after he left office, The Washington Post reported that Mnuchin was in the process of hiring for a new Middle East-focused investment firm specialising in technology, entertainment, and other sectors. This raised questions over his recent travels to the region.
Since the news of Mnuchin’s investment fund was first reported, there does not appear to be any new information about the alleged firm available online.
Mnuchin’s post-White House endeavors related to politics would not necessarily be illegal in the context of the Trump presidency. On 20 January, in the early morning of his final day in office, Trump rescinded his Ethics Order, meaning that members of his administration would immediately be allowed to work as lobbyists or represent foreign countries by nullifying their ethics pledges.
At the time, CREW’s Executive Director Noah Bookbinder stated: "By rescinding his ethics order and letting his staffers immediately become lobbyists, the man who pledged to drain the swamp took a giant step to fill it. You don’t do things you’re proud of last-minute in the middle of the night when you hope no one is watching."
Brooke Anderson is The New Arab's correspondent in Washington D.C., covering US and international politics, business and culture
Follow her on Twitter: @Brookethenews