United States President Joe Biden has said Elon Musk’s ties to foreign countries are “worthy of being looked at” amid intense scrutiny of Twitter’s future direction under the billionaire’s leadership.
Biden made the remarks on Wednesday when asked if he believed Musk was a threat to national security and whether his purchase of Twitter with the help of a member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family should be probed by US authorities.
Musk, the world’s richest man, completed his $44bn purchase of Twitter last month with the help of funding from foreign sources, including Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia, a longtime investor in the social media network, and an investment firm owned by Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.
“I think that Elon Musk’s cooperation and/or technical relationships with other countries is worthy of being looked at,” Biden said during a news conference at the White House.
“Whether he is doing anything inappropriate, I’m not suggesting that. I’m suggesting they’re worth being looked at. And that’s all I’ll say.”
Asked how the Tesla CEO and founder’s foreign ties could be investigated, Biden said: “There’s a lot of ways.”
Biden’s remarks prompted backlash from US conservatives, many of whom have welcomed Musk’s purchase of Twitter.
Tom Fitton, president of activist group Judicial Watch, on Twitter accused Biden of personally targeting his “political opponent”.
The White House last month denied a report the Biden administration was discussing the launch of a national security review into Musk’s ventures.
Chris Murphy, a Democratic Senator for Connecticut, has called for an investigation into Saudi Arabia’s stake in the deal, expressing concern about the platform being partly owned by a country with a “clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting US politics”.
Musk’s takeover of Twitter has sparked concerns the billionaire may face pressure in authoritarian countries to suppress dissident speech and disclose the identities of government critics.
Musk has extensive business interests in China, where government critics face harsh punishment, including a large Tesla production facility in Shanghai and a Tesla showroom in Xinjiang.
Musk has also attracted controversy with comments that have been perceived as friendly to the Chinese and Russian governments.
Last month, Musk suggested tensions between China and Taiwan could be resolved by giving Beijing some control over the self-ruled island and proposed a Russia-Ukraine peace deal that would formally cede Crimea to Moscow.
Ian Bremmer, a political-risk consultant and analyst, claimed Musk told him he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin directly about Ukraine, prompting a denial by Musk.
Musk has also said that it is “unreasonable” to expect his company SpaceX, which he runs along with Tesla and brain-chip startup Neuralink, to fund the Starlink satellite Internet service indefinitely and provide more terminals in Ukraine.