Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that he spoke with President Trump and the two found no evidence of threats to national security in Google’s work with China, refuting a baseless claim made by billionaire Facebook board member Peter Thiel last week.
In an interview with CNBC, Mnuchin said both he and President Trump looked into the accusations and discussed them directly with Google CEO Sundar Pichai at the White House. Mnuchin said that Google’s parent company Alphabet performed “very minimal open-source work” in China and continued to work with the Department Of Defense.
“The President and I did diligence on this issue, and we’re not aware of any areas where Google is working with the Chinese government in any way that raises concerns,” Mnuchin said.
President Trump said in a tweet July 16 that his administration would “take a look” into whether Google had committed treason. Two days prior, Thiel made a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he floated the claim that Google’s conduct was “seemingly treasonous” because the tech giant had engaged with the Chinese government to build a censored version of its flagship search engine. In his comments, Thiel suggested that the FBI and CIA should investigate his claims against Google.
Thiel, who founded PayPal and Palantir, is arguably Trump’s closest ally in Silicon Valley. The outspoken conservative tech leader backed Trump early and joined the administration’s transition team, arranging a contentious meeting between the president and prominent Silicon Valley executives in late 2016. Thiel was not speaking on behalf of Facebook, but his work on the company’s board naturally puts him at odds with Google.
Google disclosed last week that it had stopped work on a censored Chinese search engine, codenamed Project Dragonfly, a product designed to block results related to topics banned by the Chinese government. Most Google employees only discovered the company’s work on the government contract after The Intercept published a report revealing the work, and hundreds of Googlers later signed a petition advocating for Google to drop the project.
Thiel had also wondered aloud, providing no evidence, whether Google’s leadership had been “infiltrated” by foreign intelligence. A Google spokesperson responded at the time: “As we have said before, we do not work with the Chinese military.”
Google and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Thiel could not be reached for comment.