Ex-treasury secretary Mnuchin eyes TikTok, seeks investors to fund bid

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Former treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin is putting together a group of investors to buy TikTok, he said Thursday.

Mnuchin made the comments during a TV interview as the Senate prepared to consider a bill that would force TikTok’s Beijing-based parent ByteDance to divest the popular social media app. Under the bill passed by the House on Wednesday, TikTok would have 180 days to find a buyer or face a ban in the United States.

“I think the legislation should pass — I think it should be sold,” Mnuchin told CNBC. “I understand the technology, it’s a great business, and I’m going to put together a group to buy TikTok.

The bill’s proponents say they want to wrest TikTok from foreign control, expressing concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to spy on Americans or influence elections. TikTok, which says its U.S. operations use cloud servers in the United States, has criticized the bill and lobbied against it, saying the real objective is to ban the app outright.

Mnuchin was part of a 2020 effort to force a TikTok sale or ban when he led the Treasury Department under President Donald Trump. Mnuchin said a Treasury panel that oversees foreign investments recommended a sale, although Trump ultimately signed an executive order barring U.S. entities from doing business with TikTok and another Chinese-owned app, WeChat, which would have effectively banned them from app stores on phones in the United States. Federal courts blocked the order, however.

Since leaving government, Mnuchin has founded Liberty Strategic Capital, a D.C.-based private equity firm focused on technology companies. Mnuchin declined to say Thursday who might be part of his investment group, but he stressed that no single investor would have a controlling interest.

Several other investors have expressed interest in buying TikTok, although it’s unclear how advanced those efforts are. Canadian investor Kevin O’Leary, a regular on the Shark Tank TV show, has said he wants to buy the app. He has called it a “complicated transaction,” however, because Congress has not clarified whether it would have to be a full or partial divestment.

Former Activision chief executive Bobby Kotik has also floated the idea to potential investment partners, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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