Trump meets Silicon Valley elite after mutual mistrust in campaign

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 14, 2016 8:05 AM

By Gina Cherelus and Dustin Volz

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President-elect Donald Trump and some of Silicon Valley's most powerful executives met at his Manhattan tower on Wednesday, a summit convened to smooth over frictions after both sides made no secret of their disdain for each other during the election campaign.

The meeting was expected to focus on economic issues and skirt the numerous disagreements the tech industry has with Trump - including on immigration, the trade relationship with China and digital privacy - in favor of a focus on shared priorities, sources said.

"There's nobody like the people in this room, and anything we can do to help this go along we're going to do that for you," Trump told the executives gathered in a conference room on the 25th floor of Trump Tower. "You call my people, you call me, it doesn't make any difference. We have no formal chain of command," he said.

Trump added: "We're going to make fair trade deals. We're going to make it a lot easier for you to trade across borders."

Three of Trump's adult children, Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka, sat at the head of a large rectangular table as the meeting began. Their attendance may fuel further concern about potential conflicts of interests for Trump, who has said he would hand over control of his business empire to his children while he occupies the White House.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also in attendance. Guests sat in front of paper name plates and bottles of water sporting the Trump brand logo.

The meeting between tech luminaries, including Apple Inc's Tim Cook, Facebook Inc's Sheryl Sandberg and Tesla Motors Inc's Elon Musk, took place as Trump has alarmed some U.S. corporations with his rhetoric challenging long-established policy toward China, a main market for Silicon Valley.

A senior Chinese state planning official told the China Daily newspaper Wednesday that Beijing could slap a penalty on a U.S. automaker for monopolistic behavior, a warning delivered days after Trump questioned acknowledging Taiwan as part of "one China."

The official did not identify the automaker.

The tech summit is being billed as an introductory session, said sources briefed on the talks.

Several company executives thanked Trump for hosting the meeting during introductions attended by reporters. Sandberg said she was most interested in discussing job creation.

Other expected participants include Alphabet Inc's Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, Microsoft Corp's Satya Nadella, and Ginni Rometty from IBM, sources said.

Twitter was not invited to the meeting because it was too small, a transition spokesman told Reuters.

Cook and Musk will join Trump for a separate meeting after the other technology executives leave, a spokesman for Trump's transition team said.

The CEOs of Airbnb and Uber were invited but are not attending. Uber's Travis Kalanick will instead be traveling in India all week, according to a person familiar with his plans.

Bezos said in a statement the meeting was "very productive" and that he "shared the view that the administration should make innovation one of its key pillars, which would create a huge number of jobs across the whole country, in all sectors, not just tech - agriculture, infrastructure, manufacturing -everywhere."

'SOME HESITATION'

Trump clashed with Silicon Valley on several issues during the election campaign, including immigration, government surveillance and encryption, and his surprise victory last month alarmed many companies that feared he might follow through on his pledges. He has said that many tech companies are overvalued by investors.

"You look at some of these tech stocks that are so, so weak as a concept and a company and they're selling for so much money," he told Reuters in an interview in May.

Those concerns have not been assuaged in recent weeks as Trump has threatened to upset trade relationships with China and appoint officials who favor expanded surveillance programs.

"For some of the companies, there was some hesitation about whether to attend" because of sharp political and personal differences with Trump, one tech industry source said.

More than 600 employees of technology companies pledged in an open letter on Tuesday to refuse to help Trump's administration build a data registry to track people based on their religion or assist in mass deportations.

Silicon Valley enjoyed a warm rapport with President Barack Obama and heavily supported Democrat Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign.

Schmidt was photographed on election night at Clinton headquarters wearing a staff badge, and Musk said in interviews before the election that Trump's character reflected poorly on the United States.

Despite those tensions, Trump named Musk to a business advisory council that will give private-sector input to Trump after he takes office on Jan. 20. Uber's Kalanick was also appointed to the council.

From the employees of the 10 largest Fortune 500 tech companies, Trump raised just $179,400 from 982 campaign donors who contributed more than $200. Clinton raised $4.4 million from the employees of the same companies, with more than 20,400 donations, a Reuters review of contribution data found.

Trump publicly bashed the industry during the campaign. He urged his supporters to boycott Apple products over the company's refusal to help the FBI unlock an iPhone associated with last year's San Bernardino, California, shootings, threatened antitrust action against Amazon and demanded that tech companies build their products in the United States.

Trump has also been an opponent of the Obama administration's "net neutrality" rules barring internet service providers from obstructing or slowing consumer access to web content. Two advisers to his Federal Communications Commission transition team are opponents of the rules, as are the two Republicans on the FCC.

Last week, the two Republicans on the panel urged a quick reversal of many Obama policies and one, Commissioner Ajit Pai, said he believed that net neutrality's "days are numbered."

(Additional reporting by David Shepardson, Andy Sullivan, Grant Smith, Heather Somerville, Steve Holland, Jim Finkle and Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Alistair Bell and Grant McCool)