U.S. President Joe Biden suggested that his administration may look into Elon Musk’s business and technical relationships with foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, which became a major investor in the tech billionaire’s $44 billion purchase of Twitter.
Biden, who met with reporters at the White House on Wednesday to discuss this week’s midterm elections and foreign policy issues, was asked by Bloomberg’s Jenny Leonard whether the billionaire CEO who runs Tesla, SpaceX and now Twitter, is a potential national security threat. Additionally, she also asked if Musk’s acquisition of Twitter with money from the Saudis and other foreign governments should be investigated.
“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden said. “Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting that it’s worth being looked at. And that’s all I’ll say.”
His comments aren’t likely to improve frosty relations between Biden and the world’s wealthiest man, who has mocked the president’s age and last year called him a “damp sock puppet in human form.” Musk seemed especially incensed last year that the Biden Administration ignored Tesla’s achievements in the electric vehicle market and instead heaped praise on efforts by General Motors and Ford to build up their own EV businesses.
Musk didn’t respond to a request for comment and didn’t immediately reference the remarks in a tweet.
Biden is not alone in his concern about some of Musk’s international ties. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, no bastion of liberal democratic values, backed Musk’s purchase with $1.9 billion and is Twitter’s second-largest investor (after investing in Twitter in 2011, Prince Alwaleed already owned a chunk of the company, and decided to roll over his investment). Similarly, the Qatar Investment Fund also put in $375 million. Investments by those Middle Eastern interests sparked national security concerns for government officials, including Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who called for a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (or CFIUS).
Aside from Twitter, Musk’s other business interests may be creating other concerns. SpaceX has helped Ukraine after Russia attacked it by supplying critical Starlink satellite-based internet service for several months, though Musk has debated ending that assistance after he said the company is doing it at its own expense.
Tesla also needs vast amounts of raw materials for batteries, including Russian nickel. Musk was slammed recently for proposing a peace plan on Twitter to end Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine that had a noticeably Kremlin-friendly tone. Musk also has ties to China, as Tesla is the only foreign automaker in the country that’s been allowed to fully own and operate its plant there without being forced to work with a domestic Chinese partner.
That’s led many observers to wonder whether China, which bans Twitter, will be able to exert its control over the site by seeking to minimize criticism over its policies, including the treatment of the Uyghurs, or suppressing pro-Taiwan content.
Tesla shares, down about 50% this year, fell 7% to $177.59 in Nasdaq trading on Wednesday.