by Chris White
One of President Donald Trump’s biggest supporters inside Silicon Valley is acting behind the scenes to rescue TikTok’s U.S. operations while the president considers the app’s future, according to recently published media reports.
Doug Leone, a Sequoia Capital global managing partner, is pressing U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House adviser Jared Kushner to find a solution to keep TikTok in the U.S., The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, citing sources familiar with the discussion.
Leone and his wife, Patricia, gave a combined $100,000 to Trump’s reelection bid in 2019, The Washington Post noted in a report Monday on internal discussions about the app inside the Trump administration. The venture capitalist also told people that he could use his influence inside the administration to help TikTok, the Post reported, citing sources familiar with the talks.
Leone also holds a position on the president’s task force for reopening the economy, the Post noted.
The China arm of Sequoia Capital, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, made a $35 million investment in TikTok’s parent company in 2014, giving the firm a stake that is valued at more than $800 million today. The app has 100 million users inside the U.S.
The Journal and Post reports come after the president suggested Aug. 3 that he is amenable to the idea of Microsoft purchasing the upstart Chinese company, so long as the acquisition comes by Sept. 15. Twitter is also having talks about a potential combination with TikTok in the U.S., the Journal reported Saturday.
Trump also signed a pair of executive orders Aug. 6 forbidding individuals from communicating with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance. The president wants a slice of the profits from a potential sale to go to the United States Treasury.
Trump’s moves were prompted, in part, by government officials and U.S. lawmakers who believe the app is a threat to national security through its collection of user data. U.S. officials have so far not revealed direct evidence that TikTok is providing personal user data to the Chinese Communist Party.
Meanwhile, the company hired operatives to lobby on TikTok’s behalf, including Michael Hacker, who worked as a senior advisor to Democratic House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina, CNBC reported in July. TikTok also hired Freddy Barnes, a former longtime staffer for Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, according to Barnes’s LinkedIn page.
A senior adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign lobbies for ByteDance. American Continental Group, a lobbying shop owned by Dave Urban, registered on Jan. 20 to lobby for the China-based owner of TikTok, the Daily Caller News Foundation reported in July, citing financial disclosures filed with Congress.
TikTok users coordinated an effort to get people who didn’t intend on attending a Trump campaign rally in Tulsa sign up for it, CNN reported in June. One TikTok post urging fans of Korean pop to sign up for the June rally received over 100,000 likes. Mary Jo Laupp, a 51-year-old woman in Iowa, reportedly kickstarted the troll campaign.
Demonstrations in Hong Kong were barely mentioned on TikTok despite receiving worldwide attention, according to a Post report in 2019.
A hashtag used to identify posts showing resistance to an extradition bill supposedly designed to weaken Hong Kong autonomy, #antielab, had only 11 postson TikTok, but collected more than 34,000 posts on Instagram at the time of reporting.
Meanwhile, Hashtags for #HongKongProtests on TikTok returned either a single video or an error message telling users that TikTok could not “find this hashtag: Check out trending videos.”
Sequoia Capital remains supportive of TikTok and looks forward to the company reaching “a win-win solution for all parties” involved, Sequoia spokeswoman Natalie Miyake said in a statement to WaPo. TikTok has not responded to the DCNF’s request for comments.
White House spokesman Judd Deere told WaPo that the Trump administration “is committed to protecting the American people from all cyber related threats to critical infrastructure, public health and safety, and our economic and national security.”
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Chris White is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation.
Photo “Doug Leone” by Doug Leone.