Lawmakers grilled TikTok CEO Chew for 5 hours in a high-stakes hearing about the app
TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew faced roughly five hours of questioning by dozens of lawmakers in a high-stakes hearing with the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday about the safety and security of the immensely popular app.
Republicans and Democrats alike grilled the 40-year-old Chew about China’s relationship with his company, data privacy, possible teen addiction to the app, misinformation and fentanyl.
Front and center were concerns that TikTok’s parent company Bytedance might be sharing data from U.S. users with the Chinese government.
“To the American people watching today, hear this: TikTok is a weapon by the Chinese Communist Party to spy on you and manipulate what you see and exploit for future generations,” said Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
Rodgers asked Chew to say “with 100% certainty” that neither Chinese authorities nor employees of TikTok parent company ByteDance can use the app to spy on Americans, or promote content favorable to Chinese interests.
Chew said TikTok does not promote or remove content at the request of Chinese authorities. He said the app is “free from any manipulation from any government.”
Rodgers shot back: “If you can’t say it 100% certain, I take that as a no.”
Chew’s appearance comes soon after White House officials told TikTok that it must divest from ByteDance, or face a severe punishment, including the possibility of a ban. A growing chorus of bipartisan lawmakers view TikTok as a threat. They fear China’s authoritarian regime could use the app to spy on, or blackmail, the millions of Americans who use it every day.
After the hostile hearing, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said the day had been “dominated by political grandstanding” that didn’t acknowledge TikTok’s current attempts to address the issues raised by the lawmakers.
“Also not mentioned today by members of the committee: the livelihoods of the 5 million businesses on TikTok or the First Amendment implications of banning a platform loved by 150 million Americans,” Oberwetter said in a statement.
While U.S. officials have not offered any evidence that Chinese authorities have accessed the information of Americans on the app, national security experts say it is a real possibility.
Likewise, the Chinese government has not been shown to have ever influenced the app’s recommendation algorithm, though experts also say it is hypothetically possible.
TikTok did admit employees in China accessed the data of a handful of U.S. journalists who were reporting on company leaks — an incident now being investigated by Justice Department, according to Forbes.
Former Trump AG Bill Barr joins new business lobbying group that aims to target Biden regulations
Former Attorney General Bill Barr will help to lead a new group formed by a business lobbying organization that aims to be an alternative to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the massive advocacy group that has fallen out of favor with some Republicans.
Barr will be chair of an advisory board for a project called the Center for Legal Action, he told CNBC in an interview. The group is part of the American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce, the business lobbying group that launched last year as a possible rival to the chamber.
The American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce boasts of being a business lobbying group that fights “against outdated regulations, future-killing tax policies, and the corporate cronyism and backroom DC deal making that close down our economic future,” according to a memo pitch to potential members.
Barr’s decision to join with the new group comes as some Republicans on Capitol Hill have turned their backs on the Chamber of Commerce after it started to favor endorsing Democrats running for House seats. The business lobbying behemoth moved away from predominantly supporting Republicans in recent years after former president Donald Trump embraced trade protectionism, bashed certain companies for their social stances and tried to overturn the 2020 election.
Barr, for his part, drew the ire of the former president and many of his GOP allies when he said evidence did not back Trump’s claims that fraud cost him the presidential election.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., are among the powerful GOP members who have distanced themselves from the original chamber.
In a statement to CNBC provided by the new group, McCarthy said it “is an important tool to ensure regulators operate fairly, efficiently, and without burdening America’s entrepreneurs and small businesses.”
Scalise in a separate statement to CNBC provided by the business lobbying organization said, “The American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce creating the Center for Legal Action is welcome news to House Republicans.”
The new group aims aims to challenge — at times in court — regulations put in place by the Biden administration. Barr will chair the project’s advisory board, in support of the chairman Terry Branstad and CEO Gentry Collins.
Branstad was a longtime Iowa governor and Trump’s U.S. ambassador to China. Collins was once a political director for the Republican National Committee.
In his role, Barr will advise the Center for Legal Action on the best litigators to hire, he explained to CNBC. He will also help to develop the organization’s overall legal strategy.
The “CLA will provide congressional testimony, initiate litigation, file amicus briefs, and support lawsuits brought by other parties in important regulatory and constitutional cases,” the American Free Enterprise Chamber of Commerce said in a statement.
Barr would not say who he aims to recruit from the legal community.
He noted that the newly formed project would engage on the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed climate-risk disclosure rule. If the rule is enacted, public companies would have to disclose the carbon emissions that are part of their operations, as well as the climate risks their businesses face.
Collins would not say how much the organization is investing into the new project. But he told CNBC that the group has been recruiting business members “at a rate of more than 1,000 a month for almost a year now.”
“As we’ve done that, one of the principal challenges that we hear from businesses of all sizes around the country is regulatory overreach threatening our business, threatening our industries and threatening our overall economy,” Collins said.
Trump faces deposition in New York AG Letitia James’ fraud lawsuit
Donald Trump said he is being deposed Thursday in New York City as part of the state attorney general’s $250 million civil lawsuit alleging widespread fraud by the former president and his company.
Trump announced on social media overnight that he had “just arrived in Manhattan for a deposition in front of” New York Attorney General Letitia James as part of the sweeping lawsuit.
In another post Thursday morning, Trump said he was “heading downtown” to be deposed. He accused James of leaking that the appointment was scheduled at 9:30 a.m. ET.
His trip marks the second time in less than two weeks that he has traveled to the Empire State to respond to court actions against him. The ex-president faces multiple criminal and civil proceedings as he makes a third bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
Trump previously flew from his home state of Florida to New York to surrender to authorities following his indictment in a separate criminal case centered on hush money payments made before the 2016 presidential election. The former president pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records in that case, which is being prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Trump is “not only willing but also eager to testify before the Attorney General today,” his attorney, Alina Habba, told CNBC in a statement. “He remains resolute in his stance that he has nothing to conceal, and he looks forward to educating the Attorney General about the immense success of his multi-billion dollar company.”
James’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
James filed the civil fraud lawsuit last September against Trump, three of his adult children, the Trump Organization and others. The suit accuses Trump of repeatedly overstating the values of his assets in statements to banks, insurance companies and the IRS in order to obtain better loan and tax terms.
No shield for Trump in rape accuser’s case as court declines to rule
A Washington, D.C., appeals court on Thursday declined to shield Donald Trump from the first of two civil defamation lawsuits by E. Jean Carroll, a writer who said the former U.S. president raped her nearly three decades ago.
The district’s highest local court, the Court of Appeals, said it did not have enough facts to decide whether Trump deserved immunity, after he accused the former Elle magazine columnist in June 2019 of lying about the alleged encounter.
A ruling that Trump was acting as president, and not in his personal capacity, would have immunized him and doomed Carroll’s first lawsuit because the government could substitute itself as the defendant, and the government cannot be sued for defamation.
The court sent the case back to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, which had last September asked the Washington court for guidance on local law.
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