Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Wants to Buy TikTok Amid Brewing Threat of U.S. Ban: ‘It’s a Great Business’

Steve Mnuchin
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Steven Mnuchin, former treasury secretary under President Trump and Hollywood producer, said he’s assembling an investor group to acquire TikTok — although there’s no clear indication he could actually swing a deal with TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, to buy the popular app.

Mnuchin’s comments come a day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a fast-tracked bill — by a wide margin — that would effectively ban TikTok unless China-based ByteDance sold off its ownership stake. The measure now goes to the Senate, where prospects of the legislation are far less certain, while President Biden has said he would sign the bill into law. Mnuchin floated the idea to buy TikTok in a segment Thursday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

“I think the legislation should pass and I think it should be sold,” Mnuchin said. “It’s a great business, and I’m going to put together a group to buy TikTok.” He added, “This should be owned by U.S. businesses. There’s no way that the Chinese would ever let a U.S. company own something like this in China.”

Mnuchin was a prolific film financier, with producing credits including “Mad Max: Fury Road” and “American Sniper,” before being confirmed as treasury secretary in 2017 during the Trump administration. Mnuchin currently heads private-equity firm Liberty Strategic Capital, which earlier this month invested $450 million in struggling New York Community Bancorp; as a result, Mnuchin joined NYCB’s board.

Reps for TikTok and ByteDance didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Even if the U.S. enacted a law that would force a sale of TikTok or be outlawed, it would very likely face legal challenges. In addition, Chinese officials have indicated they would block any forced sale of ByteDance’s assets, because that would represent a technology export and be subject to the government’s approval. “When you see other people’s good things, you must find ways to own them,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman told the FT, accusing U.S. lawmakers of displaying a “robber’s logic” toward TikTok.

American lawmakers have expressed fears over TikTok’s Chinese ties and the risk that the Chinese Communist Party would be able to demand data on the app’s U.S. users or push propaganda. TikTok has countered that ByteDance is not controlled or owned by any government (with 60% of the company’s ownership represented by global investment firms), and that the effort to force ByteDance to sell TikTok would result in a ban on the app that would strip millions of users, creators and businesses of their First Amendment rights.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, in a video the company posted Wednesday on X, commented on “the disappointing vote” by the House. “This legislation, if signed into law, will lead to a ban of TikTok in the United States. Even the bill’s sponsors admit that that’s their goal,” he said. “This bill gives more power to a handful of other social media companies.”

Chew added, “We will not stop fighting and advocating for you. We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.” He also urged TikTok’s American users to “protect your Constitutional rights” and “make your voices heard” opposing the legislation to U.S. senators.

Donald Trump, who is running again for U.S. president in 2024 against Biden, disfavors a TikTok ban — not for First Amendment reasons but because such a move would benefit Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta. “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” he posted on Truth Social, calling Facebook “a true Enemy of the People!” As president, Trump was unsuccessful in attempts to force ByteDance to sell majority control in TikTok to U.S. owners.