How Mnuchin's Treasury Department could help soothe Trump's chaos

Steven Mnuchin
Mike Segar | Reuters

The Steven Mnuchin Treasury Department is starting to take shape.

After Mnuchin is confirmed, which is likely to happen Monday evening, several Wall Street veterans are expected to join the former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood producer in senior leadership roles at Treasury.

Senior Goldman Sachs banker Jim Donovan is under strong consideration for deputy Treasury secretary and could serve as Mnuchin's No. 2 if confirmed by the Senate, people familiar with the matter said. Donovan is close to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and served as a major fundraiser and policy advisor for Jeb Bush during the 2016 campaign.

Justin Muzinich, a former Morgan Stanley banker now at Muzinich & Co., is likely to take a senior position, possibly as undersecretary for domestic finance or counselor. The counselor position would not require Senate confirmation. Muzinich was Jeb Bush's top policy advisor in 2016.

Economist David Malpass, a veteran of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, is expected to be nominated by President Donald Trump to serve as undersecretary for international affairs.

Representatives for the White House and for Mnuchin failed to return calls for comment. None of the selections are final and Mnuchin or Trump could change their minds before appointments or nominations are made. Donovan, Muzinich and Malpass could also change plans.

But if they go forward, the trio would round out the top level at Treasury, which has been operating for weeks with limited staff led by Adam Szubin, an Obama and George W. Bush administration holdover, as acting secretary.

All three men are well-known both on Wall Street and in Washington. Malpass, who was an economic advisor to Trump during the 2016 campaign, also served as chief economist at Bear Stearns in the years before the bank's collapse.

Donovan joined Goldman in 1993 and covered major clients in both investment banking and investment management. He made partner in 2000 and worked with then co-presidents John Thain and John Thornton on broader strategy for Goldman.

For the last eight years, Donovan has also served as a professor of corporate strategy at the University of Virginia law school. Donovan would be the latest Goldman alum to join a Trump White House team that already includes several former executives of the bank including Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and senior Trump advisors Dina Powell and Stephen Bannon.

The selection of Donovan, Muzinich and Malpass for the high-profile Treasury positions will likely draw fresh grumbling from the left — and some on the populist right — because of their association with Wall Street. Trump routinely criticized bankers during his populist run to the White House, singling out Goldman for specific criticisms.

But for corporate executives and investors worried about the erratic nature of the Trump White House and the president's inclination toward protectionism and a harsh approach to immigration, all three selections are likely to be viewed with relief.

Both Malpass and Muzinich are well-known and highly respected both on Wall Street and among establishment Republicans in Washington. Donovan, a behind-the-scenes operator who generally avoids the press, is an extraordinarily detail-oriented banker who could prove invaluable to Mnuchin as he assists with the creation of significant new fiscal policy.

The Treasury Department is likely to play a key role as Trump works with Republicans in Congress to develop a corporate and individual tax reform package. Treasury also handles economic sanctions and currency issues and works with other departments on trade initiatives that are central to Trump's presidency.

Mnuchin is viewed as less protectionist than Trump and some other West Wing advisors including Bannon. He and Cohn both come from more internationalist and trade-friendly backgrounds.

The hope among many CEOs and financial industry executives is that they will help steer Trump away from trade wars while helping implement a policy of tax cuts, infrastructure investment and reduced regulations that could boost economic growth and continue a stock market rally that began following Trump's election.

The "Trump rally" picked up some fresh momentum last week after the president pledged "phenomenal" tax reform. But it remains vulnerable to concerns about protectionist trade policy, a harsh approach to immigration and a confrontational foreign policy. The more the administration hews to the Mnuchin-Cohn view of the world, the more likely it is that the Trump rally can find new highs.

—Ben White is Politico's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet Politico Morning Money. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.