Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's signatures is seen on new dollar bills, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
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Below is a transcript of Episode 2 of The Heist.


UNIDENTIFIED VOICES: From the Center for Public Integrity, this is The Heist. 

SALLY HERSHIPS, HOST: You may have seen this photo. It went viral. It’s the one where Steven Mnuchin, he’s Secretary of the Treasury, and his wife Louise Linton, are at the Bureau of Engraving. She’s got a blonde ponytail and she’s dressed all in black, including long leather gloves. And they’re holding up sheets of money, grinning.

Here’s Mnuchin on Fox News, talking about it.

NEWS ANCHOR: Mr. Secretary, some folks say that you two look like two villains from a James Bond movie. I’m sure you’ve heard that. I guess my question is, what were you thinking?

Heist logo showing the capitol tilted

About this podcast

The Heist is the story of a huge political swindle, how it happened, and how power works in a Donald Trump presidency. Reporters spent months behind the scenes: we get to know a big Republican donor, a senator who caves to political pressure, and the enigmatic Secretary of the Treasury, Stephen Mnuchin, who led the charge for these laws.

MNUCHIN: I heard that. I never thought I’d be quoted as looking like villains from the James Bond. I guess I should take that as a compliment that I look like a villain in a great, successful James Bond movie. (fades out)

HERSHIPS: This guy is our Secretary of the Treasury. And when he was sworn in, Trump was in salesman mode. 

DONALD TRUMP: Steven, I want to congratulate you. A lot of people wanted that position, Steven. A lot of people. A lot of very successful people. But I’ve known you for a long time, and I know how smart you are and how great you will be for our country. So congratulations to you, to Louise, and to your whole family. Americans should know that Steven, our nation’s financial system is truly in great hands. With him we’re going to have no problem. Believe me. (fades out)

HERSHIPS: But that’s not what happened. Under Mnuchin and the Trump administration economic inequality has been growing like it’s on steroids. Mnuchin helped to push through Trump’s 2017 tax bill which the administration said was supposed to help all Americans. But instead, it gave an enormous tax cut to corporations. That same tax cut is giving hundreds of billions of dollars a year to the rich. And when the pandemic hit earlier this year, Mnuchin was the guy in charge of allocating trillions of dollars in federal money.

He’s Treasury Secretary during the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. He has a lot of power. But somehow he manages to fly under the radar. And four years into Trump’s presidency, which has had a lot of hirings and firings and drama, Mnuchin is still there. So I wanted to know, who is this guy? And what does he tell us about how power works in Trump’s Washington? I’m Sally Herships. Welcome to The Heist — a new investigative podcast from the Center for Public Integrity. 

I made multiple requests for an interview with Steven Mnuchin to the Treasury. They got back to me, but they ignored the request for an interview. So I reached out to everybody that I could in his life. I emailed his middle school teachers, wrote to people at the Treasury who were afraid to give their names. I even reached out to the rabbi at the temple his mother used to go to. And here’s what I found — Chapter Two: Mnuchin’s World. 

If you really want to get to know somebody, take a look at their high school self. It’s a good starting point. It’s where we start to take form as adults. 

Steven Mnuchin went to a prep school. It was small and exclusive. Riverdale Country School in the Bronx. Tuition last year was about fifty grand.

SHARON: Yeah, it was a very high-end private school. It was definitely for, it was expensive. So it was definitely for the, you know, I would say it was very homogeneous, 99% white and very wealthy children.

HERSHIPS: Sharon was a couple years behind Mnuchin at Riverdale. She was a sophomore when he was a senior. And that’s not her real name. We’re not using it because Sharon says the Trump administration is vindictive, and she’s afraid of the consequences if she speaks out. But she did want to help paint a picture of what the high school age Steven Mnuchin was like. 

SHARON: There were cliques.

HERSHIPS: Sharon says Mnuchin didn’t really fit in with any of the groups — you know, the jocks, the nerds, the art kids.

Do you remember like what sports he played or what car he drove?

SHARON: He was definitely, grew up on Park Avenue and drove a red Porsche up to school.

HERSHIPS: Oh, wait, he drove a red Porsche when he was in high school?

SHARON:  Yes, ma’am. He absolutely did. And was proud to let everybody know it.

HERSHIPS: I reached out to some of his other classmates too and they also remembered the Porsche. But something else happened that happened a lot while I was reporting on Mnuchin. The closer I got to him, the more closely people seemed to know him, the more worried they were about the consequences of talking to me. A few of them pointed out — hey, this is the guy who runs the IRS. No one wants to be audited.

In Sharon’s eyes, Mnuchin was a spoiled rich kid. His father was a partner at Goldman Sachs. And later his dad opened an art gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side — that’s the kind of neighborhood where stores like Chanel, Prada, and Louis Vuitton have locations.

SHARON: A lot of doors were opened up for him as a result of who his dad was, and just the community he grew up in, at home. And he did a good job of using those connections.

HERSHIPS: Mnuchin is a guy who was born connected. That’s something I heard from a lot of people. When it was time for college, Mnuchin went to Yale. The same as his dad. He joined Skull and Bones — also known as “The Brotherhood of Death.” It’s a secret society at the college. Three members have gone to become president: William Taft and both Bushes – father and son.

One of Mnuchin’s roommates was Eddie Lampert who went on to start a hedge fund and become CEO of Sears. Sidenote: Lampert has been widely accused of milking the company dry, selling off its assets and driving it into bankruptcy. Sears later sued Lampert accusing him and others, including his old college roommate Steven Mnuchin, of looting billions. The case was later settled and Lampert, believe it or not, now owns Sears. The company declined an interview on his behalf.

Man, what was a Saturday night like in his dorm room when he was in college?

DAVID DAYEN: We did get some quotes of what Mnuchin was sort of like.

HERSHIPS: David Dayen is executive editor at the American Prospect. It’s a left-leaning magazine. He wrote a biography of Steven Mnuchin that’s pretty critical. It’s called “Fat Cat: The Steven Mnuchin Story.”

DAYEN: This probably isn’t going to make your program but our initial name for the book was a quote from somebody who knew him in college. And he said that Mnuchin puts the douche in fiduciary. So that’s a good example of you know, maybe he wasn’t well liked, but he definitely knew the right people.

HERSHIPS: That quote comes from a Bloomberg article back in 2016. I tried to find the guy who said that. But he died the next year.

After Yale, Mnuchin followed in his dad’s footsteps again. This time to Goldman Sachs, where he ultimately became partner and Chief Information Officer. He did pretty well. While he was at Goldman he bought an apartment on Park Avenue, for $10.5 million. It had five bedrooms, seven bathrooms. It was a duplex and had marble floors, and you enter through a private elevator. This is a building where Guggenheims, Vanderbilts, and Rockefellers have lived. Mnuchin was at Goldman for 17 years. After that he worked for his old college roommate Eddie Lampert’s hedge fund. He started his own hedge fund. He even did some real estate business with a guy by the name of Donald Trump.

DAYEN: He’s been able to sort of leap from one thing to the next. I don’t want to say that Steve Mnuchin is the luckiest man alive. But, you know if you look at his history, it certainly feels that way.

HERSHIPS: In some ways Mnuchin’s history is similar to Donald Trump’s. Two men with wealthy fathers and a big head start who would suddenly and surprisingly go on to top political jobs.

If you compare Mnuchin’s career so far to other recent Treasury Secretaries it’s not that unusual. A lot of them had done time in big business or investment banking. But, many had also worked in government before taking on the top job managing the country’s money. 

But Mnuchin’s career choices before 2016 show no signs of interest in public service. And the next step in his career is widely seen as the opposite of public service-minded.

Here’s where things got even better for Steven Mnuchin. But not for the country.

In 2008, the subprime mortgage crisis hit. America did not do well. Neither did most Americans. Banks around the country were failing. But Mnuchin saw an opportunity. The next year he gathered together a group of investors and $1.6 billion, and they bought up the smoldering remains of one of the largest banks to go bankrupt, IndyMac. Then, they combined that with the remains of some other banks and created one big, new bank: OneWest. OneWest foreclosed on mortgages like a hungry teenager after football practice – it was voracious and not very careful. Back to David Dayen, author of “Fat Cat.” 

DAYEN: I’ve spoken to a lot of the victims of Steve Mnuchin. I’ve talked to people who, you know, had mortgages with OneWest Bank, who were foreclosed on based on illegal or false documents, who were foreclosed on based on you know missing a 24 cent payment, who were told that they would be helped and then evicted from their homes. (fades out)

HERSHIPS: A memo was leaked from the California Attorney General’s Office. David Dayen got ahold of it. It accused OneWest, the bank run by Steven Mnuchin of “widespread misconduct.” The Attorney General didn’t ultimately move forward with a case. But the memo has “case not filed despite strong recommendations” written across the top. The prosecutors who wrote the memo accused OneWest of illegally foreclosing on tens of thousands of homeowners.

And Mnuchin earned himself a nickname in the press — the foreclosure king. 

Here’s how it worked. The FDIC required banks like OneWest to work with homeowners to try to modify their mortgages so they could stay in their homes. But, if a homeowner was in too deep, couldn’t pay, the FDIC promised it had the bank’s backs — it would cover most of their losses. So there was a very problematic incentive in place for banks. If you were a bank, it was just faster, easier, cheaper, and still legal to foreclose. 

MARC DANN: And look I’m not one to cast stones. I’ve had my own you know, bad experiences in life.

HERSHIPS: That’s Marc Dann. From 2007 to 2008, Marc was Attorney General of Ohio. He resigned amidst a scandal. He’d had an affair with a younger staff member. There were accusations of sexual harassment against one of his deputies. The state legislature was threatening to impeach him. He left under a cloud. Afterwards he had time on his hands so he started doing pro bono work representing homeowners who were fighting foreclosures.

MARC DANN: I have two beefs with OneWest as a guy representing people whose loans were being serviced by OneWest. One was that in the foreclosure process, they were creating fraudulent documents and putting them in front of courts to foreclose on people’s homes. So here in Ohio, where we have judicial foreclosure, that’s what was happening.

HERSHIPS: Marc took on 12 cases. He says all the homeowners he represented stayed in their homes. But he can’t believe that OneWest got away with so much.

DANN: Things can be legal and still be wrong.

HERSHIPS: In 2015, Mnuchin and the other owners of OneWest sold their bank for almost $2 billion more than they’d bought it for.

The Treasury runs the IRS. It prints money. It issues and manages government debt. It’s also responsible for promoting economic prosperity and ensuring the financial security of the United States. And, it supervises banks. So how did Steven Mnuchin, a guy who ran a bank that was accused of pushing so many Americans out of their homes illegally, become the guy who runs the place? It’s a complaint that Mnucihn’s critics make over and over. And it would come back to haunt him later. But first, Mnuchin’s career took a strange turn, and so does this episode.

DANN: Do you remember the movie about the old guys that get back together to rob a bank? I got it. I’m googling it right now. Old guys who rob a…Going in Style.

BANK CLERK IN MOVIE TRAILER: Balance in your daily checking.

ACTOR 1: Yeah, my mortgage payment tripled. 

BANK CLERK: I disclosed the possiblity of a rate hike during your refi. Do you remember that?

ACTOR 1 : These banks practically destroyed this country and nothing ever happened to them.

ACTOR 2: I want to rob that bank. 

ACTOR 1: Let’s go get our money back.

DANN: Where I really knew the world was going to hell in a handbasket is when my wife and I were watching Going in Style on I think we rented it from our cable company. So suddenly I’m watching the I always watch the — I’m a big movie buff, so I’m always watching the credits. The credits start to roll. And the first name is the executive producer Steve Mnuchin. The damn guy used the money he stole from OneWest to make a movie about robbing a bank.

HERSHIPS: To be clear Mnuchin did not rob a bank. And yes, you heard that right. Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of the Treasury used to be Steven Mnuchin, Hollywood film producer.  

And, if you pause the podcast here and look him up on the Internet Movie Database you will see Steven Mnuchin has been busy. He has 42 movie credits as executive producer.  

LEGO TRAILER: Everything is awesome. Oh my gosh I love this song! Everything is cool when you’re part of the team. (fades out)

HERSHIPS: Mnuchin executive produced the Lego Movie, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Storks. 

I wanted to hear about what it was like to work with Steven Mnuchin, Hollywood producer. So I tried one of Mnuchin’s business partners at the time, Chip Seelig. He wrote back, quote: “Steven is a great guy and I think he is doing a fabulous job but I am not interested in providing background for a biographical piece.”

Same old story — a lot of people just did not want to talk to me about Steven Mnuchin. So I turned to another fellow journalist. I called Kim Masters. She’s editor at large at the Hollywood Reporter, and she’s written a lot about Mnuchin’s time in Hollywood.

KIM MASTERS: I mean, I think he wanted to make money So I don’t think he went in saying, I hope I lose millions of dollars, which I think he certainly did. But I think he got the perks, you know?

HERSHIPS: Kim says when you invest millions in movies, you can get a lot more than your name in the credits. And there’s a certain kind of rich, Hollywood investor who knows it. 

MASTERS: There was a quote in the first piece I did about him, where a veteran Hollywood person said he became that guy. And that’s a species of guy that is well known here in Hollywood. They come in with outside money, and they see it as a playground.

HERSHIPS: Kim says there are parties on yachts, private jets, Eastern European oligarchs.

MASTERS: Lots of women. Lots of women. Under what circumstances? Lots of rumors. Lots of partying.

HERSHIPS: And it’s at one of those parties that Steven Mnuchin meets his third and current wife, Louise Linton.

MASTERS: You know, there’s an expression in Hollywood. Model, actress, whatever. You know, Louise Linton is actres, producer, whatever. Right?

HERSHIPS: And there’s something else about Mnuchin’s time in Hollywood. A lot of the movies he backed — lots of them had pretty liberal themes. Going in Style is about three retirees who rob a bank because the company they work for has had to cut their pensions. The Lego Movie is about an ordinary worker going up against an evil titan, named Lord Business.

LEGO MOVIE CLIP: Would you cancel my two o’clock? This next meeting could run a little bit deadly. 

HERSHIPS: So here’s what we know about Steven Mnuchin so far. He made a lot of money in finance, and backed movies with liberal themes in Hollywood. But still, who is this guy? What exactly does Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury believe in? 

What is his worldview?

DAYEN: I mean, that’s kind of hard to say.

HERSHIPS: I asked almost everyone I talked to that question — what is Mnuchin’s worldview? David Dayen, author of “Fat Cat,” was as puzzled as everyone else, but he did offer a theory.

DAYEN: I mean, there’s sort of a personal worldview which is, you know, make as much as you can, for as long as you can. His worldview is, whoever’s in front of me paying me. That the worldview. He’s now Trump’s Treasury Secretary, his worldview is right in line with Trump. Before he was, you know, a mover and shaker in Hollywood, his worldview might have tended more towards those lines. He’s someone who adopts the positions of those who are closely connected to him. 

HERSHIPS: And this behavior translates right over to politics. Mnuchin has donated tens of thousands of dollars to politicians over the years, including Democrats. And not just any Democrats — Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. They were small donations, for a rich guy — a couple thousand dollars here and there. But still.

You should know, I sent a lot of questions to the Treasury Department about Secretary Mnuchin. Including ones about his past that we explore in this episode. The Treasury did not choose to answer any of them. Instead I got emailed a written statement about Mnuchin’s  accomplishments as Secretary. So we’ll get to that later. 

But first, here is another puzzling thing about Mnuchin’s career. I’m going to let David Levinthal tell you about it. 

DAVID LEVINTHAL: He worked for George Soros, the ultimate Republican boogeyman.

HERSHIPS: David Levinthal is Senior Washington Correspondent at Business Insider. But before that he led a team covering campaign finance at the Center for Public Integrity.

After he left Goldman Sachs Mnuchin got a job working at an investment firm owned by Soros.

And then Mnuchin got a job as campaign finance manager for Donald Trump.

How did he get away with working with George Soros and then joining the Trump administration, like, how does that work?

LEVINTHAL: Donald Trump started his campaign in 2015 saying straight up, I am not going to take anyone else’s money. 

TRUMP: And by the way if the Republican Party, and I hope they all come together, because I want them to come together, it’s great. But if for any reason, they get a little bit like, they don’t want to help out as much, then I’ll fund my own campaign, I’d love to do that. I’d love to do that.

HERSHIPS: Trump says he’s a billionaire. But his attitude didn’t last very long. Because campaigns are expensive.

LEVINTHAL: As 2015 turned into 2016 Donald Trump was faced with a very stark reality. He needed other people’s money, he needed to do something other than just run his campaign using his own cash.

HERSHIPS: And Steven Mnuchin, as we’ve seen, has one very special skill.

LEVINTHAL: Steven Mnuchin is really, really good at raising money.

HERSHIPS: David says that we don’t know of anything that Trump has said publicly about Mnuchin and Soros working together. So we can’t know for certain what he thought about Mnuchin’s working for him. But we do know presidential candidates do not hire fundraising chairs unless they have access to wealthy people.

Also, Mnuchin is not the kind of donor who picks a team, red or blue, and sticks with it. 

LEVINTHAL: But there’s a certain class of donors that don’t think that way at all.

HERSHIPS: These donors are thinking at a professional level. They’re trying to make sure they can get access to whoever wins the election, Republican or Democrat. So they hedge their bets and donate to both sides. Before he was president, Trump did the same thing. And if you’re thinking, gee, now Trump is president but at the time the idea of a reality TV star running for president seemed kind of crazy, know that Mnuchin joined Trump’s campaign pretty late — the same month it became clear that Trump would win the Republican nomination. 

DAYEN: And he was asked by somebody, you know, why would you sign up with Donald Trump? Even the Republicans he supported prior to that time, I think were more moderate. And he said something like, well, this is a bet. And if I win, I’m going to get a really big prize. And he made the bet, and he won.

HERSHIPS: But something surprised me. A source close to the family told me that Mnuchin’s dad and stepmom and his sister, they were big Democrats. Supporters of Hillary’s. His dad donated around twenty-five grand this year to politicians. But the last time he gave to a Republican was back in 2003. If you look on his sister’s Facebook page you’ll see pictures of Obama. This source says when Mnuchin took the job with Trump the family was devastated.

Which makes Mnuchin even harder to understand. But, whatever the reason he said yes, it turns out to be lucky for Donald Trump he did. Because Trump was on the hunt for a Treasury Secretary and he didn’t have a lot of options. 

DAYEN: You know, Trump didn’t have a lot of ties to Wall Street. I mean, you think about Trump as a big real estate kind of magnate, he would obviously have these connections to major figures within the financial industry. But that’s not actually true. I mean, the financial industry kind of shunned him. There was only one bank, Deutsche Bank that would actually do business with him.There wasn’t a lot of people left for Trump to go to other than Steve Mnuchin.

HERSHIPS: So Trump made Steven Mnuchin his pick. And this is where Mnuchin’s past, his time with OneWest bank, resurfaced and caused some real problems for Mnuchin. Because in order to land his job, he had to be confirmed by the Senate. Which meant testifying in front of a lot of angry Democrats.

RON WYDEN: While Mr. Mnuchin was CEO…

HERSHIPS: Ron Wyden of Oregon.

WYDEN: The bank proved it could put more vulnerable people on the street faster than just about anybody else around. 

HERSHIPS: Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

SHERROD BROWN: Is it true that OneWest’s independent audit firm said that it violated the Service Member’s Civil Relief Act by initiating foreclosures on 54 active duty military families? That’s what the independent audit firm said. Yes or no?

MNUCHIN: Well you have the document in front of you, I don’t. (fades out)

HERSHIPS: Elizabeth Warren asked to have homeowners who’d been foreclosed on by OneWest testify at Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing. But she was turned down. So she convened a special meeting with the homeowners the day before.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Mr. Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing will take place tomorrow. At that hearing, he will have the opportunity to explain why his years of grinding families into the dirt at OneWest bank. (fades out)

HOMEOWNER: I hear that Steve Mnuchin was a leader of the bank that is doing this to me and other seniors. I do not think a man like that should be the Treasury Secretary and in charge of our economy. I think that this is an injustice in that an elderly woman was deceived. I relied on what I was told. And now they are trying to kick me out of our family home.

HERSHIPS: And here, for the record, is what Mnuchin had to say for himself at his confirmation hearing about why he wanted the job.

MNUCHIN: One of the greatest reasons I was drawn to President-elect Trump’s campaign was it was predicated on a commitment to stimulating prosperity for Americans of all backgrounds, whether they lived in the inner city of Detroit, rural North Carolina, the coal country of Ohio, or West Virginia, or any place in between. I share the President-elect’s goal of economically empowering every citizen. We will not rest in our mission until that is a reality.

DANN: And I almost, I mean I just came completely unglued. 

HERSHIPS: That’s Marc Dann, the lawyer, remembering how he felt when he learned that Mnuchin was going to become Treasury Secretary.

DANN: It was just astonishing to me that this guy was going to become the Secretary of the Treasury, one of the most important jobs in the world. And frankly, at this moment in time in the history of the United States, perhaps the most important job in government.

At the end of the day, you know, what I hate worse than people who disagree with me are people who appear to have no philosophy at all except money. I mean, I think he’s, I think Steve Mnuchin is kind of the poster child for the Green Party, and not the kind of green that that’s gonna, you know, stop climate change, but the kind of green that’s only about how to make money. 

HERSHIPS: So Mnuchin is now Secretary of the Treasury. And all this time I’d been writing to sources, asking if they knew Mnuchin. If they understood him, who is he really, why did he want this job? And for the most part I’d been striking out. But then, I got a break. I finally found a source, someone who worked directly with Mnuchin, who met with him regularly who was willing to talk.

Okay, great. Um, Mnuchin — what is? Like who is this guy?

ANONYMOUS SOURCE: I don’t know. He’s a really odd duck. He… can I be off the record for a minute and then, you know,  go back and be on background?

HERSHIPS: That’s not his real voice. He’s a former Executive at Treasury. And he’s afraid if he’s identified he’ll lose his job. So the voice you’re hearing now, is the voice of an actor. 

ANONYMOUS SOURCE: I got to tell you it was so strange the things that he would sometimes care about.

HERSHIPS: Mnuchin was a self-identified micro manager, which by itself is not that unusual. But what our source says is strange is the subject matter he was interested in. Odd choices for the Secretary of the Treasury.

ANONYMOUS SOURCE: We would go in and be talking. We’d have a 45 minute briefing to talk about this important change to the international tax rules. And one of my colleagues started and the secretary was like, yeah yeah yeah, I get it. He was not interested in looking at that. He was like, I get it. What else do you have? I said, well, the only other thing we have is a briefing on the changes to alimony rules. He was like, what? The alimony rules? Talk to me. I was not prepared because I did not think it was important, but we spent like 25 minutes talking about changes to alimony rules.

The thing that he frequently asked about was when you know, when are we going to get to the money, when are we going to sign the money? He was like, giddy, giddy about that.

HERSHIPS: As Treasury Secretary, Mnuchin’s signature appears on our money — ones, fives, tens. And clearly he was excited about it. Which may help explain how he ended up in that picture that went viral, him and his wife holding up sheets of money at the Bureau of Engraving. 

So Mnuchin was interested in some strange subjects. This source also said that Mnuchin had some unusual ideas of his own. 

ANONYMOUS SOURCE: The craziest thing that I ever saw when I was there, seven or eight of us around the table. And the Secretary walks in and he looked at me and he said “Do you know that your social security card doesn’t even have a magnetic stripe on it?  So my idea is, we should put security features on our social security cards.”

And then he turned back to General Counsel. And he’s like “So can we sit down and have a meeting?” And he said,  “They have other priorities, they don’t want to have a meeting.” And he said, “What? I can’t believe that.” And he said, “Well, wait, we’re in charge of tax returns, right? Is there any law that says you have to use social security numbers on tax returns? We could issue our own cards and then you know, we could put security features on that.” And I’m like, what is he talking…he’s talking about issuing basically new social security numbers to everyone. Like, give new social security numbers to everyone… like is this for real? 

HERSHIPS: Mnuchin’s first big responsibility as Treasury Secretary is tax reform. And that means he has to sell a bill, to make it sound like a good deal for all Americans.

MNUCHIN: We have no intention of doing something that would add trillions of dollars to the debt.

MNUCHIN: Let me first assure you that our plan is not going to add five trillion dollars and I don’t understand…

MNUCHIN: The objective of the president is that rich people don’t get tax cuts.

ANONYMOUS SOURCE: You can see that in execution, this is really only about the donor class, right? The tax cuts that went to anyone lower down on the income distribution tables were much smaller and all expire in a few years. I think it was important for them politically to have the cover of saying, look, we did something for people down the chain, but that was never what was important.

HERSHIPS: There’s something else about Mnuchin too. It’s not financial, or maybe it is. At the height of summer in 2017, the year Mnuchin was confirmed as Secretary, a rally was held in Charlottesville, Virginia. And the group that gathered there was white, neo-Nazis.


HERSHIPS: You’ve probably seen the clips on the news – young, white guys looking super clean cut. They were wearing polo shirts. They looked like they had just stepped out of a Gap ad. But they were also carrying tiki torches and chanting “Jews will not replace us.”


HERSHIPS: The next day they marched with Confederate flags and swastikas. There was violence and one protestor died. What Trump said afterwards is notorious. 

TRUMP: And you had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group, excuse me, excuse me, I saw the same pictures as you did. (fades out)

HERSHIPS: He pinned the blame on “both sides.” He was standing in Trump Tower in front of a marble wall and an American Flag, and Steven Mnuchin was one of the people right there, standing at his side. Now, I’m Jewish and I have to tell you, when you see Neo-Nazis marching down the street, it is not a good feeling. And to be clear, that is an understatement. Mnuchin is also Jewish. And the fact that he supported Trump who was in turn seemingly supporting Nazis did not go over well. Alumni from his college, and his high school sent letters calling on him to resign.

Mnuchin issued a statement. In it, he defended the president. He wrote “I don’t believe the allegations against the president are accurate.” And he reminded readers that he was Jewish. 

At the beginning of this episode, I set out to try to figure out who Steven Mnuchin is.

The Treasury Department calls him a consistent Republican who, quote, “Believes in the free market and economic freedom,” But my reporting tells me that Mnuchin’s career doesn’t actually seem to have been driven by traditional Republican values. It’s more transactional.  He is who he needs to be at a given moment. And in this case it means doing whatever he needs to do to keep his boss happy.  

So I’ll leave the last word to him. About a year after the tax bill passed, he did a Q&A with Kai Rysdall, the host of the public radio show Marketplace, at UCLA.

RYSDALL: So what was it about the President’s economic agenda that made you say, I want to do this and work on this? 

MNUCHIN: Look, I want to go back to the comment of you know, the financial crisis impacted lots of people. I operated banks that went under during the financial crisis. I saw the impact of what went on and how important banks are to local communities and the economic issues, and I felt an obligation to try to do things that would help people and help the economy, and particularly the middle class. And I think we’re very proud of these accomplishments.

Next time on The Heist, the story of the 2017 tax bill. How Republicans ignored almost all economists and their own tradition of fiscal conservatism to push the bill through. 

MOLLY MICHELMORE: We figured out the secret sauce, we figured out the kind of magic pill that will allow us to cut taxes, increase growth, and by increasing economic growth actually maintain stable federal revenues, allowing us to pay down the debt and deficit.

HERSHIPS: Does it work?

MICHELMORE: No. Never works, right? It never works. 

HERSHIPS: Our episode today was reported and hosted by me, Sally Herships. Our editor was Curtis Fox, with help from consulting editor Alison MacAdam and Center for Public Integrity’s Tax Project editor Allan Holmes. We had production help from Lucas Brady Woods, Brett Forrest, Camille Petersen, and Ali Swenson. Our theme music and original score by composer Nina Perry and performed by musicians Danny Keane, Dawne Adams, and Oli Langford. Our engineer is Peregrine Andrews. The Heist is executive produced by me and the Center for Public Integrity’s Mei Fong. 

WHYTE: Hi. I’m Liz Essley Whyte, a reporter at the Center for Public Integrity. This summer I got ahold of some White House documents that showed which parts of America were in coronavirus red zones. Those are areas with severe spread of the virus. But even though they contained detailed, state by state recommendations, which were meant to curb the spread of the virus, the documents were not made public. That’s why we shared the documents with newsrooms all across America for free. We believe in reporting news that can save lives. But we do this all at no charge, with no ads and no paywalls. And we need your help. Become a member at Support great journalism. Support reporting that saves lives.

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