Biden says Elon Musk’s foreign ties ‘worthy’ of scrutiny

Remark comes as two US senators call for vetting the $44 billion Twitter deal amid questions over Saudi stake in platform

In this file photo taken on May 02, 2022, Elon Musk arrives for the 2022 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (Angela Weiss/AFP)
In this file photo taken on May 02, 2022, Elon Musk arrives for the 2022 Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

US President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Twitter owner Elon Musk’s ties with foreign countries were “worthy” of scrutiny, amid questions over the Saudi stake in the platform since the tycoon’s takeover late last month.

“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden said, answering a question from a reporter after a long pause in his comments following the midterm elections.

“Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that… That’s all I’ll say,” he said.

Last month reports emerged that the Biden administration was weighing a national security review of Musk’s $44 billion takeover of Twitter, in part because of a key group of investors backing the buyout.

The investors include Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund. Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding owns Twitter shares valued at $1.89 billion, and the company is partly owned by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund chaired by crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS). Bin Talal is a renowned billionaire investor and has backed companies like Uber, Lyft, Twitter, and Citigroup.

Two US Senators have called for a vetting of the Twitter deal in order to prevent the platform from accessing user information that could endanger human rights activists and critics of the Saudi government.

FILE – In this Feb. 4, 2014 file photo, Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, waves as he arrives at the headquarters of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

“We should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting US politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

Musk has also struck what’s seen as a favorable public posture towards Vladimir Putin despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — notably by echoing the Russian president’s talking points on the conflict.

And he has raised eyebrows by suggesting the self-ruled island of Taiwan should become part of China — a stance welcomed by Chinese officials but which deeply angered Taiwanese officials.

Critics point to the industrial ties linking Musk to China, which has increasingly fraught ties with Washington. The tycoon’s Tesla electric auto company has ramped up production to record levels at its Chinese factory in Shanghai.

Last week, Biden had criticized Musk for his purchase of a platform that “sends and spews lies all across the world.”

US President Joe Biden takes questions from reporters, after he delivered remarks in the State Dining Room, at the White House on November 09, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Samuel Corum / Getty Images via AFP)

“Elon Musk […] goes out and buys an outfit that sends and spews lies all across the world,” Biden said at a campaign event in Illinois Friday night where he addressed the importance of the midterm elections on Tuesday. “How do we expect kids to be able to understand what is at stake?” he said.

Separately, Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been quite bumpy. He’s posted a string of controversial tweets including a picture of a Wehrmacht soldier and a response to Hillary Clinton touting a conspiracy theory over the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband (since deleted), fired about half the staff (and then tried to re-hire some), demanded an $8 monthly subscription from users for a blue “verified” badge, encouraged the public to vote for Republican candidates in Tuesday’s midterm election, and has been vague on how he plans to combat rampant, hate speech, extremism and antisemitism.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League and a host of civil rights groups called on all advertisers to suspend their relationship with Twitter, while offering a harsh critique of Musk’s leadership. The rebuke came after a meeting between civial rights leaders and the Twitter owner

Musk said last week he won’t make major decisions about content or restoring banned accounts before setting up a “content moderation council” with diverse viewpoints. He reiterated that point on Wednesday at the meeting with civil rights organizations, adding the council he’s assembling will include “the civil rights community and groups who face hate-fueled violence.”

The Stop Hate For Profit coalition, a group of civil rights organizations that includes the ADL, said in a statement that since meeting Musk this week to discuss the uptick in tweets containing hate speech, racial slurs, antisemitism, extremism, and disinformation since he took the helm at Twitter last week, “hate and disinformation have proliferated” and Musk “has taken actions that make us fear that the worst is yet to come.”

AP contributed to this report.

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