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Steven Mnuchin, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for the secretary of the Treasury, is in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, taking questions on a variety of topics such as regulation and the economy.
In addition to taking tough questions on a loan program run by a bank owned by his hedge fund, Mnuchin was quizzed on the duties of the Treasury secretary by Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon and ranking member of the committee.
During questioning from Sen. Wyden, Mnuchin was asked about the responsibility of the Treasury secretary to investigate any foreign investments in US businesses – particularly businesses owned by the president-elect – that would create national-security issues through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).
“I would deal with President Trump’s business no different than I would deal with any business that comes before the committee and I would take my role as chair of that committee very, very significantly,” said Mnuchin.
The CFIUS inspects any foreign purchases of or significant investment in a US company to evaluate any national-security risks.
Ethics experts and lawmakers have raised concerns that Trump’s business investments in foreign countries represent serious conflicts of interest. Additionally, there are concerns that foreign governments or businesses could invest in Trump’s companies to influence policy or the president.
Sen. Wyden did not appear to think that Mnuchin’s answer went far enough.
“Mr. Mnuchin, the president is not like everybody else,” replied Wyden. “He is the commander-in-chief and foreign government involvement in his business could compromise national security. So I’m going to reflect on that answer as well.”
Trump announced at a press conference last week that his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump would be running his businesses while he was in office but he would not be divesting from his businesses entirely because it would be too complicated. Most US presidents have used a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest.
Many ethics experts have said that Trump’s efforts do not meet the traditional standard of divestment.
Mnuchin has also drawn critical questions from Democrats regarding his overseas holding companies for his hedge fund in Antigua and the Cayman Islands.
Mnuchin insisted that this is typical of hedge funds to assist their institutional investors such as pension funds and that he has not used the offices “to avoid any US taxes.”