Trump demands feds get a 'very substantial' cut of any Microsoft-TikTok sale, doesn't explain how that's legal
President Trump signaled Monday that he is okay with Microsoft purchasing the U.S. part of TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media company he has threatened to ban, but it will cost ... someone. First, he told reporters at the White House that if Microsoft or another U.S. company purchases TikTok by his Sept. 15 deadline, "a very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the treasury of the United States." Why? "The United States should be reimbursed or paid because without the United States they don't have anything," Trump said enigmatically.
"It's a little bit like the landlord-tenant," Trump explained. "Without a lease, the tenant has nothing. So they pay what's called key money or they pay something." Later Monday, Trump elaborated, arguing the U.S. "should get a very large percentage of that price," and "it would come from the sale — whatever the number is, it would come from the sale." This was an idea "nobody else would be thinking about but me," Trump said. "But that's the way I think."
"It was unclear under what authority the White House could demand such a payment," The Washington Post noted, and the Treasury Department and White House both declined to comment on Trump's proposal.
Any U.S. company that purchased TikTok would have to first get approval from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment (CIFUS), an interagency group that reviews proposed takeovers involving a foreign company, and lawyers familiar with CIFUS reviews told the Post the U.S. Treasury does sometime collect fees for its work, but only up to $300,000.
Microsoft said Sunday night that it is "committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury," but that suggested the U.S. would benefit from future tax revenue. What Trump is demanding sounds more like muscling in for a cut of the deal. Luckily, everyone has lawyers.