TikTok has been quietly hiring powerful D.C. insiders, including former staffers for Biden, Obama, Hillary, Pelosi, Buttigieg, Mccain, Mccarthy, Paul Ryan, and Adam Schiff.
Facing intense scrutiny from American lawmakers, TikTok has been assembling a powerful influence machine in the nation’s capital. Our review of existing reporting and public LinkedIn profiles shows that TikTok has hired more than two dozen well-connected D.C. power players, many of whom have close ties to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The CFIUS is in charge of negotiating the terms of — and overseeing — Project Texas, which is the data security plan TikTok hopes will stave off a nationwide ban. And in addition to those with CFIUS ties, TikTok has hired former staffers of Joe Biden, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Buttigieg, Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan, John McCain, Adam Schiff, and Jeff Flake.
The CFIUS is an “interagency panel, comprising 16 U.S. government departments or agencies and chaired by the Treasury.” In addition to the Treasury, the panel includes the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, Defense, State, and Energy, as well as the Office of Management & Budget and the National Security Council — all of which once employed people now working for TikTok:
TikTok employees with ties to the Department of the Treasury (CFIUS Chair)
- Dayo Simms. A lawyer serving as Privacy Counsel for TikTok’s Public Policy team, Dayo Simms was for almost three years a Senior Privacy Program Specialist at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
- Lennon Duggan. TikTok’s Monetization Policy Lead, Duggan served as Director for Scheduling and Advance at the U.S. Department of the Treasury under the Obama Administration.
TikTok employees with ties to the Department of Justice1
- Sheila Nagaraj. A lawyer serving as counsel for TikTok’s Trust & Safety team, Nagaraj formerly spent 9 years working as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.
- Steve Reeder. A former Skadden lawyer who specialized in defending clients against DOJ investigations, Reeder was Managing Counsel for Oracle’s Antitrust team from 2014 to 2021, and then he was hired by TikTok to head their Global Antitrust team.
TikTok employees with ties to the Department of Homeland Security
- Dayo Simms. Yes, Simms not only used to work for the Treasury, she was also once a Government Information Specialist on the Department of Homeland Security’s privacy team.
TikTok employees with ties to the Department of Defense
- Jamal Brown. Once the press secretary for the Department of Defense, Brown is now helping manage TikTok’s U.S. policy communications.
TikTok employees with ties to the Department of State
- Ryan Walsh. Once a Senior Advisor and Resident Fellow for Counter Disinformation in the State Department, Walsh is now TikTok’s Risk and Rapid Response Lead.
TikTok employees with ties to the Department of Energy
- Kathryn Grant. Once the Special Advisor for Communications in the DOE’s Office of the Deputy Secretary, Grant is now an Outreach & Partnerships Manager for TikTok’s Trust & Safety team.
TikTok employees with ties to the Office of Management & Budget
- Jamal Brown. The former DOD press secretary also worked for several years on the press team for the OMB under the Obama Administration.
TikTok employees with ties to the National Security Council
- Kathryn Grant. In addition to her DOE ties, Grant was also once the Special Assistant to the Coordinator for Defense Policy at the NSC.
TikTok has also hired a host of power players with close ties to the White House, members of Congress, and key congressional committees, such as the House and Energy Commerce Committee, which held the hearing featuring TikTok’s CEO in late March:
- Michael Leiter. A partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, and Flom, Leiter has been tapped by TikTok to “deal with” the CFIUS during Project Texas negotiations. Leiter was the head of the National Counterterrorism Center under both the Bush and Obama administrations, and he helped establish the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He’s the head of Skadden’s CFIUS, National Security, and International Trade Group, which specializes in representing clients under investigation by the CFIUS.
- Bart Gordon. A partner at the law firm K&L Gates, Gordon was once a congressional representative for Tennessee’s 6th District, during which time he served as a member of the House and Energy Commerce Committee. He is now registered to lobby for TikTok.
- Michael Beckerman. Once the deputy staff director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the founding president of the Internet Association (a powerful tech lobbying group), Beckerman is now a Vice President and the Head of Public Policy at TikTok. In December, he famously refused to acknowledge China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, despite repeated requests from CNN’s Jake Tapper.
- Andrew Wright. Another K&L Gates partner, Wright was the director of legal policy for the Biden-Harris transition team. He is now advising TikTok on congressional investigations.
- Lennon Duggan. In addition to his former role at the Treasury Department, Duggan has served as: Special Assistant to then-Senator Joe Biden; Senior Legislative Correspondent for Senator Edward Kaufman; Pentagon Coordinator for the Obama Presidential Inaugural Committee; and Advance Associate for the Obama Administration. He was hired by TikTok in March 2022 as Monetization Policy Lead.
- Jamal Brown. It’s worth noting that Brown, whose DoD and OMB ties we’ve already observed, was also the National Press Secretary for Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign.
- Sarah Montell. Once the Deputy Coalitions Director for Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, Montell is now an Outreach & Partnerships Global Program Manager on TikTok’s Trust & Safety team. She also previously served as Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for FEMA.
- Freddy Barnes. Once a political director and strategic advisor for Kevin McCarthy, who is now the Speaker of the House, Barnes is now on TikTok’s U.S. Public Policy team. Barnes is also a former “Liaison to Leadership” for the National Republican Congressional Committee, where he facilitated communications between the NRCC and House leadership. For two years before that, he was an assistant for the House’s Whip Floor Team, responsible for ensuring the passage of major legislation, and a special assistant to the Chief Deputy Whip.
- Michael Tobias Bloom. Once a senior advisor to then-Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Tobias Bloom is now on TikTok’s U.S. Public Policy team.
- Mikayla Mowzoon. Once a Senior Policy Advisor to the late Senator John McCain, Mowzoon is now on TikTok’s Global Product Policy team.
- Derrick Dockery. Once a Business and Intergovernmental Coalitions Coordinator for the Speaker of the House during Paul Ryan’s tenure, Dockery is now on TikTok’s U.S. Government Affairs team. He also previously served as communications and coalitions coordinator for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. (He’s also a former NFL lineman!)
- Maureen Shanahan Atchison. Once the communications director for Adam Schiff, who’s now the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Shanahan Atchison is TikTok’s Director of Global Corporate Communications. She also previously served as press secretary for representative Betty Sutton, as well as the Committee on Homeland Security. Also of note: Shanahan Atchison was a Senior Vice President at SKDK, a leading D.C. public affairs firm, which has been hired by TikTok for help with policy communications.
- Jason Samuels. Having served as communications director for Senator Jeff Flake, Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Joni Ernst, Representative Mike Johnson, and the Republican Study Committee, Samuels is now TikTok’s Federal Government Affairs Manager.
- Suzy Loftus. Once General Counsel for the California DOJ, Suzy Loftus is now Global Head of Risk & Response Operations at TikTok. Loftus also served as California’s Assistant Attorney General under now-Vice President Kamala Harris.
- Kristina S. Groennings. Once vetting counsel for Pete for America — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign — Groennings is now Senior Commercial Counsel at TikTok.
- Michael Hacker. Once a senior advisor for the House Majority Whip, Hacker is now the Director of U.S. Public Policy at TikTok. He was also once a partner at KDMK, a D.C. public affairs and crisis communications firm.
- David Leiber. Once a Legislative Aide for Senator Dick Durbin and a Legislative Assistant for the Senate Judiciary Committee on working on internet policy, Leiber is now the Head of Privacy Public Policy for the Americas at TikTok.
- Kim Lipsky. Having served as the staff director for three Senate committees over a twenty year period, including most recently the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Lipsky is now on TikTok’s Government Relations team.
- Latoya Veal Walton. Once the communications director for the United States Congress Joint Economic Committee, Veal Walton is now on TikTok’s policy communications team for the Americas. She also served as Pennsylvania Press Secretary for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid.
- Albert Calamung. Once an Assistant Chief of Staff and member of the Legislative Affairs team for the U.S. Marine Corps — where he worked on cyber and internet policy — Calamung is now on TikTok’s U.S. Public Policy team.
- Brandon Mullings-Whitaker. Once an attorney-advisor at the EPA, and Regulatory Counsel for defense contractor Bennett Aerospace, Mullings-Whitaker now serves as Compliance Counsel for TikTok’s US Data Security group.
With Project Texas, TikTok’s sensitive user data will be housed in Oracle’s cloud, accessible only by a special team of TikTok employees vetted by the federal government. Oracle will monitor the cloud for data breaches, and report any improprieties to the CFIUS. Because the CFIUS “does not publish its decisions or its reasoning for them, advisers say inside knowledge and connections are important to navigate what outsiders often see as a “black-box” review process.” As such, it’s become essential for TikTok to pick up key D.C. power players with close ties to the CFIUS. But CFIUS oversight only comes into play assuming lawmakers don’t ban TikTok nationwide, which perhaps explains why the company has been hiring ex-congressional and White House staffers in droves.
This index of TikTok power brokers is based in large part on publicly accessible LinkedIn profiles. Presumably, not all TikTok employees who could be on this list have LinkedIn profiles, and of those who do, not all have their profiles set to public. As such, it should be considered an incomplete list — as well as an evolving one. We will update this post as the company continues to ramp up its efforts to avoid a nationwide ban.
Source: U.S. Politicians and Political Staffers Who Work for TikTok (piratewires.com)