The Biden administration was deliberating on conducting a national security review of Elon Musk, Bloomberg originally reported in October, a claim that the administration denied just days later.
The administration sought to investigate Musk over his acquisition of Twitter and Starlink ventures through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The federal agency was originally established in 1975 to study foreign investment and now conducts reviews on investments with ties to foreign backers and reserves the power to reject deals.
In September, Biden issued Executive Order 14083, expanding its scope to include cybersecurity risks and risks to U.S. persons’ sensitive data. CFIUS can now reportedly prevent foreign acquisitions of companies specialized in “microelectronics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and biomanufacturing, quantum computing, advanced clean energy, and climate adaptation technologies” if deemed a threat to national security or against the U.S.’s economic interests.
The order “reflect[ed] the evolving national security threat landscape and underscoring the critical role of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in responding to new and emerging threats and vulnerabilities in the context of foreign investment,” according to the agency’s website.
But it is worth noting that the agency’s review process was initiated with the passage of the Exon–Florio Amendment in 1988.
The report came amid Musk’s allege meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin to negotiate peace, according to Ian Bremmer, a journalist who claimed, in both a newsletter and an interview with CNN, that Musk had told him that directly. The meeting could be a violation of the Logan Act, when a private citizen negotiates with a foreign government.
Musk denies ever having met with Putin, except 18 months ago where the “subject matter was space.” He also tweeted, “Nobody should trust Bremmer.”
There was also public criticism when it was learned that Prince Al Waleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and Binance Holdings reportedly own a 5.2% stake in Twitter.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre fielded questions on Musk at an October 24 press conference.
“There have been some slightly conflicting reports about Elon Musk, because on one side there’s been a report that he might be subjected to some kind of national security review,” a reporter said. “There’s been these—he’s been kind of trolling on Twitter, communicating with Medvedev on Twitter. So there’s been a little bit of confusion about what his role is there.”
“And on the other side, there’s been reports that he’s in discussions or the government is in discussions with him about providing Starlink to Iran, or to the people protesting in Iran.”
“Those reportings [sic] are not true…The national security review—that is not true,” Jean-Pierre replied. “And I really don’t have more to say on that piece, as well—on the Elon Musk and what he’s choosing to do and not to do. I’m not going to say more from here.”
But the president did not reiterate this point during his third solo White House press conference a day after the midterms.
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“Do you think Elon Musk is a threat to US national security?” Bloomberg reporter Jenny Leonard asked Biden. “And should the US—and with the tools you have—investigate his joint acquisition of Twitter with foreign governments, which include the Saudis?”
“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden answered. “Whether or not he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting that it’s worth being looked at.”
At the same conference, the president reportedly dismissed concerns about his own family’s overseas dealings, saying that the “American public wants to move on” and “it’s almost comedy.”
National Security advisor Jake Sullivan and Jean-Pierre refused to clarify Biden’s previous statement during a conference.
“Well, you heard the president yesterday, and the CFIUS process is the normal process through which transactions that might have a national security nexus get reviewed, and I will defer to the CFIUS process rather than comment on it further from this podium,” Sullivan said.
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