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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration's existential threat to TikTok is again going down to the wire, as today is the deadline for when its Chinese parent company ByteDance must unwind a 2018 merger that helped create the app.

The big picture: There's no precedent for what might be coming after the stroke of midnight, and so far Treasury is turtling.

  • The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) has previously required that past mergers be unwound (e.g., Grindr), but never before has such an order not been met in time.
  • TikTok would, at least theoretically, be in violation of the law if it continues to operate, unless CFIUS grants it a 30-day extension (which it hasn't) or a judge grants it an emergency injunction (which TikTok sued for on Tuesday).
  • The original CFIUS ruling says that the U.S. Justice Department "is authorized to take any steps necessary."

"Wait a minute," says rhetorical reader. "I thought they had a deal with Oracle and Walmart that President Trump approved?"

  • Yes, but Trump only approved it in concept. The devil was in the details, particularly as it relates to data privacy and security, and those details remain bedeviled.

What TikTok is saying: "In the nearly two months since the President gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement — but have received no substantive feedback."

What Treasury is saying: Nothing. Not only to reporters like me, but sources suggest that it also went dark on TikTok/ByteDance as the election neared.

The bottom line: TikTok is two-for-two in requesting court injunctions, but both of those cases related to sloppily-written executive orders. Overcoming CFIUS, which is designed to protect national security, could be a higher bar. In the meantime, over 1,500 U.S. workers and an estimated 100 million U.S. users hang in the balance.

Go deeper

Trump bans transactions with eight Chinese software apps

Trump speaking at a rally in Dalton, Georgia, on Jan. 4. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump signed an executive order Tuesday that prohibits transactions with eight Chinese software applications, claiming they pose a national security threat given their ability to access private information about their users.

Why it matters: The order comes two weeks before Trump leaves office, and it remains unclear whether President-elect Biden will continue enforcing Trump’s bans on Chinese companies.

Mike Allen, author of AM
4 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.

Cyber CEO: Next war will hit regular Americans online

Any future real-world conflict between the United States and an adversary like China or Russia will have direct impacts on regular Americans because of the risk of cyber attack, Kevin Mandia, CEO of cybersecurity company FireEye, tells "Axios on HBO."

What they're saying: "The next conflict where the gloves come off in cyber, the American citizen will be dragged into it, whether they want to be or not. Period."