Sen. Mark Warner: Big risks to tackle from banks to TikTok

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Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, is right in the thick of the news. As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he’s grappling with security concerns over the popular TikTok app, ramifications of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow this week, and other issues around Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine.

And as a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Warner is knee-deep in the failure of California’s Silicon Valley Bank and the future of banking regulation. In 2018, he voted for a measure that rolled back some regulations on midsize banks, like SVB, and he has stuck by that support. But he is also open to new banking reforms, he says, after an inquiry by the Federal Reserve is completed into what caused SVB to fail.

Why We Wrote This
From his vantage point on both banking and intelligence committees, Sen. Mark Warner spoke at a Monitor Breakfast on Monday about the recent bank turmoil, TikTok, and the handling of classified documents.

“If there were things that happened in 2018 that helped create this crisis, I’m wide open to making changes,” Senator Warner told reporters at a breakfast hosted Monday by The Christian Science Monitor.

When asked about another subject – the Biden administration’s unwillingness to share key details about President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents – he said, “The administration’s position is untenable. … If there was a violation made by President Trump, President Biden, or Vice President Pence about the mishandling of documents, that ought to be pursued.”

Sen. Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, is right in the thick of the news. As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he’s grappling with security concerns over the popular TikTok app and its China connection, ramifications of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow this week, and other issues around Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine.

As a member of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Warner is also knee-deep in the failure of California’s Silicon Valley Bank and the future of banking regulation. In 2018, he voted for a measure that rolled back some regulations on midsize banks, like SVB, and he has stuck by that support. 

But the Virginia Democrat is also open to new banking reforms, he says, after an inquiry by the Federal Reserve is completed into what caused SVB to fail. 

Why We Wrote This
From his vantage point on both banking and intelligence committees, Sen. Mark Warner spoke at a Monitor Breakfast on Monday about the recent bank turmoil, TikTok, and the handling of classified documents.

“Let me be clear, we need to figure out what happened,” Senator Warner told reporters at a breakfast hosted Monday by The Christian Science Monitor. “And if there were things that happened in 2018 that helped create this crisis, I’m wide open to making changes.”

The senator added that he was “absolutely supportive” of President Joe Biden’s statement last Friday urging Congress to give the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. power to “claw back” executive pay at failed banks, among other punitive measures. The Fed’s first round of investigation into SVB’s failure is expected by May 1. 

At the Monitor Breakfast, Senator Warner also pledged to donate campaign money from SVB and its now-ex-CEO, Greg Becker, to charity if the Fed finds wrongdoing. 

“Listen, I have never been influenced by campaign contributions on any issue,” the senator said. “Secondly, if there was malfeasance, of course I’m going to turn it back. I’ll give it to charity.”

Members of Congress from both parties, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, have received donations from SVB, as did the Democratic National Committee and the Biden 2020 campaign. Some recipients, including the DNC and Biden campaign, have said they’ll donate the money to charity. 

Following are more excerpts from the breakfast with Senator Warner, lightly edited for clarity: 

On Thursday, the CEO of TikTok appears before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He is expected to say that TikTok now has some 150 million users in the United States, the suggestion being that it’s so entrenched in our lives that it can’t be reined in. What’s your response to that?

I disagree. … And there’s a twofold concern I have. One is that the data that is being collected, regardless of the assurances from the company, … I don’t think [it’s] safe.

Let’s go back to China’s laws and 2016. The Communist Party put in place, by law, that every company at the end of the day owes its first obligation to the Communist Party, not to shareholders, not to customers. So this notional idea that the data can be made safe, under CCP [Communist Party of China] law just doesn’t pass the smell test. 

Secondly, and this is where I’m even more concerned, and that’s its ability to be a propaganda tool. That the TikTok that Chinese kids get operates under a different company, and is a site that advocates science and engineering and studying hard and being a good citizen. The stuff our kids get, not so much.

Bipartisan members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are unhappy with the Biden administration’s unwillingness to share key details on President Biden’s handling of classified documents. Where does that situation stand? 

The administration’s position is untenable. It doesn’t pass any kind of smell test. If there was a violation made by President Trump, President Biden, or Vice President Pence about the mishandling of documents, that ought to be pursued. 

I’m concerned not only about the documents, but what has been done, if anything, to mitigate [further mishandling].

How does the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, see Russia and China? 

China is much more difficult to penetrate. Remember, this is in the public domain: [FBI Director] Chris Wray indicated the FBI starts 10 new counterespionage cases against China every day. 

No. 2, I’m an age where we always viewed the Soviet Union/Russia as a potential adversary. We didn’t have that vis-à-vis China. And matter of fact, I was part of the absolute conventional wisdom theory of the case in the early parts of the 2000s. I remember going to China as a governor and encouraging all these deals and university collaboration, cross-collaboration with the premise that the closer we bring [China] into the international order, the more they’re going to operate like the balance of the world. 

With the rise of Xi, we were just wrong. I mean, I would sit in all of these Intel hearings, and every, every week hear another horror story about what was happening, from intellectual property theft to the kind of joint ventures where [there’s] this giant sucking sound of technology being exploited, the investments China was making. 

If I leave you with no other thought, it is that national security in 2023 is different than it was in 2003 and 1993. It is increasingly a technology competition. Who has the most tanks, guns, and planes is not going to be the determiner. It is going to be, who is the most successful in telecommunications, in advanced energy, in synthetic biology, in quantum computing, in artificial intelligence.

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