A "knock-down, dragout" argument broke out in the Oval Office last week when two key presidential advisors fought in front of their boss, an insider tells the Washington Post. Trade adviser Peter Navarro and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly locked horns over the fate of TikTok, the Chinese-owned video app that President Trump warned he might ban—or let Microsoft buy, if the US Treasury received a "substantial" fee. In the meeting, Mnuchin said he had talked to Microsoft officials and believed the sale was warranted on national security grounds. But Navarro demanded the ban, accusing Mnuchin of going easy on China. A "vicious" battle ensued between the two, recalling their foul-mouthed argument on a trip to Beijing in May 2018.
"I think Trump's instincts are to be aggressive toward China," says a former US official. "Navarro's like the devil on his shoulder, saying, 'Do it, do it.' Mnuchin is more like a governor, trying to slow everything down—'What about Wall Street? What about Phase 2 [of the trade deal]?'" How it ended is unclear, but Trump signed an executive order Thursday that would basically shut down TikTok's US operation in 45 days if it isn't sold, per CNN. Navarro later said the Trump administration relies on "strong, often opposing views," and added this: "It is critical for a strong America that 'what happens in the Oval Office, should stay in the Oval Office' so I have no comment on what is clearly a malicious leak riddled with hyperbole and misinformation." (Read more TikTok stories.)