Joe Biden said Elon Musk’s ties to foreign countries were “worth investigating” in response to a question about whether Washington had national security concerns around the world’s richest man.
“I think that Elon Musk’s collaboration and/or technical relationships with other countries are worth exploring,” Biden told reporters on Wednesday, without going into further detail. The US President added that he had not “proposed . . . whether or not [Musk] doing something inappropriate”.
Biden’s comments raise fresh questions about the possibility of a government review of Musk’s deals less than two weeks after the Tesla boss inked the $44 billion Twitter deal, one of the most high-profile and volatile acquisitions in recent memory.
They come after media reports last month that US officials were debating whether they had a legal way to investigate Musk’s activities, including the Twitter deal and SpaceX’s Starlink terminals, on national security grounds. The White House denied these reports were true.
Musk was embroiled in a separate controversy over the Starlink terminals, operated by his private company SpaceX, which were relocated to Ukraine to provide internet to the population and military amid the Russian invasion. After initially receiving praise from Kyiv, the billionaire angered Ukrainians when he suggested On Twitter, Crimea is said to be ceded to Russia as part of a peace deal with Moscow.
Last month, Musk complained that the service in Ukraine was costing SpaceX nearly $20 million a month, before abruptly announcing he would be paying for the support “indefinitely.”
The Financial Times reported in October that some Starlink devices were failing in areas liberated from Russian occupation, raising questions about whether the company had suspended service. Some devices eventually came back online.
Some US lawmakers have raised concerns about the countries that backed Musk’s takeover of Twitter. Chris Murphy, a Democratic US Senator from Connecticut, last week asked the US Committee on Foreign Investments, an interagency body that screens incoming investments for security risks and is led by the Treasury Department, to investigate the Twitter transaction.
In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Murphy said funding from members of the Saudi royal family and the Kingdom of Qatar would result in a combined stake of about 5 percent in Twitter.
“Given Twitter’s critical role in public communications, I am concerned about the potential influence of the government of Saudi Arabia,” he wrote.
“Aside from the vast amounts of data Twitter has collected on American citizens, any potential that foreign ownership of Twitter will lead to increased censorship, misinformation, or political violence is a serious national security concern,” Murphy said.
The Treasury Department and Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Biden’s testimony.
Additional reporting by James Politi and Hannah Murphy