Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is assembling an investor group to buy TikTok

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks with reporters
Then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks with reporters at the White House on July 23, 2020.
(Associated Press)

As Congress weighs a bill that would lead to a nationwide ban of the popular video app TikTok, former Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Thursday he is assembling an investor group that will try to purchase the China-based company.

“This should be owned by U.S. businesses,” Mnuchin said in a television interview Thursday morning. “There’s no way that the Chinese would ever let a U.S. company own something like this in China.”

Mnuchin, a Los Angeles resident who has worked as an investment banker and Hollywood film producer, said he had spoken to a “bunch of people” about forming a group to buy the app that is used by roughly 150 million Americans.


“It would be a combination of investors, so there would be no one investor that controls this,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “The issue is all about the technology. This needs to be controlled by U.S. businesses.”

The Chinese government has previously said it would oppose any sale of TikTok.

In 2020, leaders in Beijing tightened export control rules to necessitate government approval for any sale of TikTok to a U.S. owner.

With concern growing among U.S. leaders about TikTok’s effect on national security — and influence on millions of young people — the U.S. House passed a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would lead to a nationwide ban if owner ByteDance Ltd. does not sell its stake. President Biden has pledged to sign the bill, which passed in the House by a vote of 352-65 with 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans casting a vote against.

The House’s overwhelming vote to ban TikTok unless it is freed from Chinese control suggests that a ban might be coming soon. But it’s not that simple.

March 19, 2024

But its fate is uncertain in the Senate after former President Trump came out this week against a TikTok ban, even though he worked during his presidency to block the app.

In a rambling interview on CNBC, Trump said that he continued to believe TikTok posed a threat to national security. But banning it, he said, would upset young people. According to Pew, 63% of 13- to 17-year-olds use TikTok.


“Frankly, there are a lot of people on TikTok that love it,” Trump said. “There are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it.”

Trump also expressed concern that any move to block TikTok would benefit Facebook, a platform that in 2021 kicked Trump off its platform for his role in the Jan. 6. storming of the U.S. Capitol.

“The thing I don’t like is that without TikTok, you can make Facebook bigger,” Trump said. “And I consider Facebook to be an enemy of the people, along with a lot of the media.”

Mnuchin, a Republican who served as Treasury secretary under Trump and tried to force a TikTok ban in 2020, said he supported the bill passed by the House.

“I think the legislation should pass, and I think it should be sold,” he said.

Lawmakers who support the bill have argued TikTok poses a national security threat because the Chinese government could force the company’s owner to hand over data that would compromise U.S. users of the app.

Even if the Senate passes legislation, ByteDance will likely challenge it in court on free speech grounds. Last year, a federal judge blocked Montana’s attempt to ban the app, arguing that the ban deprives TikTok users “of communicating by their preferred means of speech.”


Supporters of a ban say the bill does not violate the 1st Amendment because it targets ByteDance’s conduct, not the app’s content.

“TikTok’s own conduct makes clear that it is beholden to the [Chinese Communist Party] and presents an unacceptable threat to U.S. national security,” Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said earlier this month in a statement.