WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump suggested Monday that the U.S. Treasury should collect a portion of the potential sale of the social media company TikTok, although it was unclear under what authority the White House could demand such a payment.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump reiterated that he wants TikTok to be forced to cease operations in the U.S. by around Sept. 15 if it is not sold to Microsoft or another U.S.-based company. If that sale goes through, the president said, part of the proceeds should be paid to U.S. taxpayers as compensation for operating in America.

“A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States,” Trump said of the potential TikTok sale. “The United States should be reimbursed or paid because without the United States they don’t have anything.” The president added: “It’s a little bit like the landlord tenant. Without a lease, the tenant has nothing. So they pay what’s called key money or they pay something.”


A man wearing a shirt promoting TikTok is seen at an Apple store in Beijing on Friday, July 17. AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

It was unclear how the president would require TikTok to pay a portion of its sale into the U.S. Treasury, beyond the normal collection of tax revenue by the Internal Revenue Service. A Treasury Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A White House spokesman also did not immediately return a request for an explanation.

The comments come as the president seeks to amplify pressure on TikTok. On Friday, Trump said that he plans to ban the Chinese-owned company from the U.S. over national security concerns. Peter Navarro, Trump’s senior economic official, told Fox News on Monday that he was not sure if it was “prudent” to allow Microsoft to make the deal with TikTok.

“The question is, given China’s civil-military infusion … can we trust any company that operates in China, has servers in China, has software in China, to protect your children?” Navarro told Fox News.

Microsoft has emerged as a likely purchaser of at least the U.S-based portion of TikTok. Trump appeared to open the door to allowing Microsoft to make the purchase, despite Navarro’s comments, although he raised questions about the logistics of doing so.

“The name is hot; the brand is hot — how do you do that if it’s owned by two different companies?” Trump said.

TikTok has confirmed it is in preliminary conversations to sell the U.S. portion of the application over Trump’s threats. Microsoft also issued a statement about the importance of the sale of TikTok “providing proper economic benefits” to the U.S. and U.S. Treasury, comments that could be interpreted to mean future tax revenue.

“Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President’s concerns,” the company said in a statement. “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.”

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