Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge
President Trump’s advisors got into a “knockdown, drag-out” fight in the Oval Office late last week during discussions about a TikTok ban, the Washington Post reported. Trade advisor Peter Navarro accused Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin of being soft on China, as Navarro pushed for an outright ban of the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, according to the Post, as Mnuchin had been arguing for a TikTok sale to a US company.
Navarro told the Post in a statement that President Trump relies on “strong, often opposing views,” when making decisions. “Because this is true, it is critical for a strong America that ‘what happens in the Oval Office, should stay in the Oval Office’ so I have no comment on what is clearly a malicious leak riddled with hyperbole and misinformation.”
It’s the latest entry into the very weird state of affairs around TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. A quick recap: President Trump signed an executive order on Thursday banning all transactions with ByteDance beginning September 20th. TikTok said the order has “no adherence to the law” and that it was issued “without any due process.” NPR reported Saturday that TikTok was preparing a lawsuit to challenge the order, which it may file as early as Tuesday.
It’s not clear how Trump’s executive order would affect a potential sale of TikTok, either in part or entirely, to Microsoft. The software giant said in an August 2nd blog post that its CEO had spoken with President Trump and was “prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States.” That was the first time the company had confirmed reports it was in talks to acquire TikTok.
“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury,” the blog post reads. It adds that the company expects to move “quickly to pursue discussions with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, in a matter of weeks, and in any event completing these discussions no later than September 15, 2020.”
The administration has threatened to ban the video-sharing app for several weeks. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on July 7th a ban was “something we’re looking at.” But TikTok US General Manager Vanessa Pappas said in a video August 1st that “we’re not planning on going anywhere” and the company is “here for the long run.”
TikTok is a subsidiary of Beijing-based ByteDance, and has been scrutinized for its privacy practices and potential ties to China’s government. Pompeo has compared TikTok to Huawei and ZTE, two Chinese companies the Trump administration has designated as threats to US national security.
The president’s order asserts that Chinese-developed apps like TikTok “threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.” It cites the International Emergency Economic Powers Act along with the National Emergencies Act as providing the authority for the order, a somewhat unusual move for the White House to take.
According to a Friday New York Times report, a CIA assessment found no evidence that Chinese intelligence agencies used TikTok to access data from American users.