Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff, has flagged fresh concern about the partnership that Oracle struck with ByteDance to operate TikTok, in the latest sign of unease from the Trump administration about the proposed deal.
“If all we’re doing is repackaging it and still keeping it as a predominantly Chinese-government run company, that would not sit well with the original goal the president outlined,” Mr Meadows told reporters on Thursday.
The Trump administration is evaluating whether the partnership — which would create a new US-based company that would operate TikTok’s global operations — would undermine US national security.
China’s ByteDance and US software giant Oracle have spent recent days going back and forth with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US — an intra-agency panel that can block deals on national security grounds — which is examining the proposal the companies submitted to the government last weekend.
The partnership would involve creating a company whose board members would all be American citizens, said people familiar with the deal.
It would also set up a security committee led by someone with US government security clearances. The US administration would have to approve both the board members and the head of the security committee.
Mr Trump last month threatened to ban the video sharing app over concerns China could obtain data on US citizens.
Mr Meadows’ comments came one day after Mr Trump said he would be unhappy if the deal allowed ByteDance to retain a majority stake in the new company. Asked if he would accept such an arrangement, Mr Trump said: “If that’s the case, I’m not going to be happy.”
Cfius is preparing to make a recommendation to Mr Trump about whether to approve the deal, which also requires approval in China. The president said he would be briefed about the details of the deal on Thursday.
While many details have not been made public, people familiar with the situation said Walmart would hold a minority stake in the new company. The current proposal still envisions ByteDance holding a majority stake in the venture, despite the comments from Mr Trump and his chief of staff.
Under the deal, ByteDance would retain control of the algorithm — the critical part of the app that determines which videos users see first, and has been the main driver of its huge success worldwide.
That has sounded alarms on Capitol Hill where Marco Rubio, who heads the Senate intelligence committee, and other Republicans have urged Mr Trump not to approve the existing deal.
“We remain opposed to any deal that would allow China-based or controlled entities to retain, control or modify the code or algorithms that operate any US-based version of TikTok,” Mr Rubio and several of his Republican Senate peers on Wednesday wrote to Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary who chairs Cfius.