I don’t mean Mnuchin has literally vanished. If you could find him, you could no doubt still see him. What I mean is that Mnuchin has been missing from public view since his disastrous attempt a week ago to calm US financial markets as they were heading south, and there’s no telling if or when he’ll reappear. Here’s a timeline:
- Wednesday, December 19. The S&P 500 drops 1.54%, a bad day on Wall Street.
- Thursday, December 20. Mnuchin goes on Fox Business Network and says “The market reaction is completely overblown”. The S&P 500 does a bit worse, a 1.58% drop.
- Friday, December 21. The S&P 500 heads further south, dropping 2.06%, an exclamation point on the worst week on Wall Street since the Great Recession.
- Sunday, December 23. Mnuchin calls major bank CEOs, who all reassure him they have plenty of cash on hand. Mnuchin releases a bizarre press statement celebrating the call. Was this his idea, or was it Trump’s orders? Nobody knows.
- Monday, December 24, is an even worse day in the markets. The S&P 500 falls another 2.71%, the biggest Christmas-Eve drop ever. Mnuchin’s press release takes much of the blame. Mnuchin himself is silent.
- Tuesday, December 25, Christmas Day. President Trump is asked in the Oval Office whether he still has confidence in Mnuchin. He says “Yes, I do. Very talented guy. Very smart person” — using the same “very talented, very smart” persiflage that Trump tossed off December 7 to describe diplomatic novice Heather Nauert, his nominee for UN ambassador. Mnuchin continues to be silent.
- Wednesday through Saturday, December 26–29. Continued radio silence from Mnuchin. No press releases, no tweets, nothing. As of this writing, Mnuchin is not scheduled to appear on Sunday morning talk shows either.
Often the important news in Washington is what isn’t happening, and you can see that by comparing Mnuchin last year to Mnuchin this year. Last year after Christmas, Mnuchin announced new North Korean sanctions and retweeted Pence on how great the US economy was doing. But now lower-ranking administration officials like Kevin Hassett are taking up the slack to do things like reassuring the public that the Trump shutdown should not damage the economy permanently. Although Mnuchin’s defenders (such as they are) might argue “Hey, he’s on vacation in Cabo San Lucas!” that vacation didn’t stop him from making his bizarre press release, or from tweeting before his disastrous performance last weekend, so there is almost surely a deeper story here.
Every so often we hear about how Trump is unhappy with Mnuchin, such as reports in November about Trump’s disapproval of Mnuchin’s choice for Federal Reserve chair. It’s easy to dismiss these reports, as Trump seems to disparage everybody. But the anti-Mnuchin drumbeats are getting louder, and on Wednesday CNN quoted an anonymous source close to the White House as saying “Mnuchin is under the gun.”
Mnuchin no doubt fears Trump’s petulant outbursts and knows that the best way to avoid them is to say and do nothing. And Mnuchin also knows that he’ll be toast when the economy turns south, as Trump will surely make him a scapegoat for any recession. And even if the recent Wall Street downturn is temporary, Mnuchin will be in Trump’s crosshairs soon anyway, because as the IRS’s boss Mnuchin has the legal responsibility to give a copy of Trump’s tax returns to House investigators when they ask for them, as they surely will next year when they look into foreign influence in the Trump administration. And although Trump will no doubt tell Mnuchin to defy Congress over the tax returns, Mnuchin has already signaled that he’ll follow the law — and at that point, Trump will be so angry with him that there’s a good chance he’ll fire him.
Does the name Justin Muzinich ring a bell with you? If not, now might be a good time to find out more. Justin Muzinich was a key designer of Trump’s tax cuts for the rich, Trump nominated him in April to be Deputy Treasury Secretary after others declined the job, and the Senate finally confirmed him on December 11 so he will be a backstop if Mnuchin quits or is fired. However, Muzinich is a Bushie: he worked for Jeb Bush’s 2016 campaign and seems to be more of a tax-cut guy than a circle-the-wagons-for-Trump guy. So he quite possibly will run into Trump’s short fuse sooner even than Mnuchin did, and it’s not clear how well he’ll be able to run Treasury in the brief time that Trump will give him.
In short, although Mnuchin’s vanishing act should prolong his stay in the short term until Trump leaves the US Treasury will be on shaky ground due to an increasingly dysfunctional president and administration. This will not be good for American taxpayers or for the American people. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.