Inside the Mnuchin Files

Jared Kushner once advocated for CBDCs.

CoinDesk Insights
Jan 11, 2022 at 8:43 p.m. UTC
Updated Jan 11, 2022 at 8:43 p.m. UTC

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

We FOIA’d former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s emails. Here’s what we found.

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The Mnuchin files

The narrative

CoinDesk filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Treasury Department for former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s crypto-related emails. We received 250 pages of emails that shed light on everything from the department’s response to sanctions concerns from other nations to who advocated for central bank digital currencies within the former administration. (Hint: He was related to the last president.)

Why it matters

FOIA requests are a powerful tool for helping to shed light on how policymakers are approaching questions of regulation. Today’s report by CoinDesk shows how the Treasury Department under former President Donald Trump broadly viewed crypto, with other interesting tidbits sprinkled throughout.

Breaking it down

I just want to highlight some key findings from our report. To me, the most significant finding was that Oleksandr Bornyakov, the deputy minister of digital transformation in Ukraine, reached out to the State and Treasury departments asking for help.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control issued sanctions on Russian individuals involved in the annexation of Crimea in 2020. A number of crypto exchanges, including Bittrex, Coinbase and Gemini, responded by pulling out of the entire country of Ukraine.

Bornyakov asked the U.S. officials to clarify the sanctions compliance requirements, noting that Ukraine itself was not under the same economic embargo as Crimea.

No one at Treasury returned his email.

That seems to be one common theme. A number of emails included in the FOIA response came from industry participants trying to provide or gain feedback about various issues, such as the FinCEN wallet proposal. Some of these emails were shunted to deputies or lower-level officials, while others did not receive a response at all.

I’d recommend reading the full article – six of us worked on this to make sure it’s as comprehensive as possible. We also made the full set of responsive documents available here. (CoinDesk redacted only some personal information like email addresses.)

We have a number of other outstanding public information requests. One of these is a Freedom of Information Law request to the New York Attorney General’s Office for documents about Tether’s reserves, provided to the investigative entity as part of its inquiry into the stablecoin issuer. Tether has petitioned a New York court to block the release of these documents. Last week, CoinDesk joined the legal case as an intervenor. You can read CoinDesk’s filings here.

Tether, for its part, believes the release of these documents will put it at a competitive disadvantage, and said in a public statement that the FOIL request is tied to CoinDesk’s parent company, Digital Currency Group, also being an investor in Circle, which issues the USDC stablecoin.

Biden’s rule

Changing of the guard

Key: (nom.) = nominee, (rum.) = rumored, (act.) = acting, (inc.) = incumbent (no replacement anticipated)

Rostin Behnam was sworn in as chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission last week, after nearly a year in the acting chairman role. The Senate confirmed Behnam in December. The regulator last year said he believes the CFTC could play a bigger role in overseeing the crypto spot markets, citing trading volume for bitcoin and ether on U.S. exchanges.

Elsewhere:

Outside CoinDesk:

  • (Bloomberg) PayPal is looking into whether it should launch its own stablecoin, Bloomberg reports, citing PayPal Senior VP Jose Fernandez da Ponte. PayPal hasn’t committed to launching a stablecoin, though.
  • (TechDirt) A federal court has ordered Twitter to identify the user behind an anonymous Twitter account. The account “tweeted out various things mocking and shaming various extremely wealthy people,” TechDirt reports. The case itself appears related to a somewhat questionable copyright dispute.

If you’ve got thoughts or questions on what I should discuss next week or any other feedback you’d like to share, feel free to email me at nik@coindesk.com or find me on Twitter @nikhileshde.

You can also join the group conversation on Telegram.

See ya’ll next week!

DISCLOSURE

The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.