The Barometer has a question: What kind of government regulations could look at a flight by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury on the private jet of a convicted securities fraudster and conclude that no ethics waiver was necessary?
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin flew from Washington to Los Angeles on the private jet of the king of junk bone, Michael Milken, and the Treasury Department said, “Nothing to see here. No problem.”
When the optics are this bad, the rules are irrelevant. We can talk ourselves blue trying to justify the actions:
Mr. Mnuchin reimbursed Mr. Milken for the flight
The two are old friends (not sure this one helps, but the regulations are more liberal for optically challenging conduct when friendship rests beneath the interaction).
They are unsure whether the two discussed a potential pardon for Mr. Milken.
Mr. Milken has been a philanthropic giant, complete with the Milken Institute, a think tank. He has funded projects for increasing global prosperity, helping youth, and advancing medical research. Purchasing goodwill for pardon purposes does not make a private jet flight any less tacky. In fact, given the formulaic approach of philanthropy to felonious reprieve, the jaundiced eye takes on greater tint.
Despite all attempts at mitigation, the whole thing shows, at a minimum, poor judgment. A cabinet official trekking across country with a felon who committed securities fraud is a story that will not go begging for coverage. Cozy relationships undermine public trust, no matter how much reimbursement come along.