WASHINGTON – It was a glam shot that got ugly.
The wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin dove headlong into a social media skirmish this week, blasting a critic of her Instagram post highlighting her high fashion choices. Calling the commenter “adorably out of touch,” Louise Linton suggested she and Mnuchin contributed more to the U.S. economy and paid more in taxes than did her critic.
After a day of mounting criticism, the Scottish actress issued an apology Tuesday. But she had already assumed a starring role in the continuing story of the Trump administration’s enormous wealth.
“I think spouses of political appointees are usually not fair game for critics, but with Trump, tensions are heightened,” said Republican political consultant Alex Conant.
The drama began Monday when Linton posted a photo of herself getting off a government plane in Kentucky with Mnuchin. In her post, Linton mentioned several designer labels for her white ensemble, including Tom Ford and Valentino.
Commenter Jenni Miller responded from Oregon: “Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable.”
Linton shot back, defending herself and Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive and hedge fund investor.
“Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you’d be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours,” Linton wrote. She went on to call Miller’s response “passive aggressive” and “nasty” before ending her retort with a suggestion that Miller “go chill out and watch the new game of thrones.”
Miller told CNN she found Linton’s original post “incredibly offensive,” saying Linton went to a state with high poverty and “chose to brag about her outlandishly expensive clothes. It’s more than tone-deaf, it’s deplorable.”
In her apology, Linton said: “I apologize for my post on social media yesterday as well as my response. It was inappropriate and highly insensitive.”
Norm Eisen, President Barack Obama’s chief ethics attorney, called Linton a “Marie Antoinette for our age.” In an email, he added that in the Bush or Obama administrations, a spouse of an official who replied that way and the official “would have been counseled.”
The White House referred questions about Linton to the Treasury Department, which said Mnuchin and Linton are reimbursing the government for Linton’s travel and that Linton received no compensation from the fashion labels mentioned in her post.
Anita McBride, who served as chief of staff for former first lady Laura Bush, said people in high-level government jobs and their spouses must be careful about their public statements.
“Fairly or unfairly, you are held to a higher standard on how to respond and what kind of dialogue you should engage in,” she said. “Don’t take the bait.”
In a Cabinet with plenty of wealth, Mnuchin is among the richest members. He worked for Goldman Sachs for nearly two decades and later founding a successful hedge fund. He also ran a company that invested in Hollywood movies including such blockbuster hits as Avatar. He married Linton, who has had small roles in television shows and movies, in a lavish Washington wedding in June. Trump attended the wedding and Vice President Mike Pence officiated.
Before the wedding, Linton gave an interview to “Town and Country” magazine to talk about her jewelry, a lavish collection of diamonds and pearls.
Like the businessman president, Trump’s team is packed with high rollers, including Education Secretary Betsy Devos, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, as well as daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both senior advisers.
This isn’t the first time their wealth has drawn attention. The president has chosen his lavish Florida vacation home as a place to host foreign dignitaries. During the transition, Ivanka Trump displayed a high-end bracelet on “60 Minutes.” The Washington hangout of choice for staffers and hangers-on is the opulent Trump International Hotel.
Still, Trump has always promoted his image as a wealthy mogul, unlike politicians who have tried to downplay their riches. Said Conant: “It has always been part of Trump’s brand and it’s extended to his cabinet.”
Mnuchin was visiting Kentucky on Monday for an appearance with Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a tour of Fort Knox. Treasury secretaries typically travel on commercial flights for domestic trips. The department did not answer questions about why the couple was using a government plane.
It’s not the first time Linton has raised eyebrows. Last year she apologized after being criticized for a self-published memoir of a year she spent in Africa as a teen, and withdrew the book. Critics deemed the book inaccurate in its depiction of life on the continent. An excerpt was published online by The Telegraph, but taken down by the British newspaper “in light of the concerns raised by readers.”