The Industry

How Bad Are Elon Musk’s Latest Twitter Shenanigans?

Introducing the Elon Musk Shenanigans Watch.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk gives interviews as he arrives at the Offshore Northern Seas 2022 (ONS) meeting in Stavanger, Norway on August 29, 2022. - The meeting, held in Stavanger from August 29 to September 1, 2022, presents the latest developments in Norway and internationally related to the energy, oil and gas sector. - Norway OUT (Photo by Carina Johansen / NTB / AFP) / Norway OUT (Photo by CARINA JOHANSEN/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)
Much to consider. CARINA JOHANSEN/Getty Images

The Elon Musk–Twitter saga had seemed to have entered a quiet period over the last week or so—in court, anyway. But on Thursday, the Delaware Court of Chancery unsealed an Oct. 6 filing by Twitter’s lawyers alleging that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO is under federal investigation related to his attempted purchase of the social-media company. Twitter would like to see Musk’s correspondence with federal authorities. So would Slate’s Elon Musk Shenanigans Watch, which comes to you now in its inaugural edition. (Officially, that is. What has the past year of Elon Musk news been if not one big shenanigans watch??)

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According to Twitter’s lawyers, Musk’s team has been playing “hide the ball” with the correspondence, claiming that the documents lie outside the scope of discovery in the suit. It then goes on to describe the company’s almost comically lengthy attempts to get those communications, which Musk’s lawyers still had not produced less than two weeks before the start of the trial that would determine whether Musk would be forced to buy the platform. This delay isn’t necessarily important, though it’s fun to imagine Musk’s very serious counsel coming up multiple new versions of the dog-ate-my-homework excuse. Let’s call this stuff shenanigans-adjacent.

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What’s important is who might be investigating Musk and why. The Twitter filing isn’t clear on either, though it drops some clues. According to Reuters, “In late September, Musk’s attorneys provided a ‘privilege log’ identifying documents to be withheld from discovery. The log referenced drafts of a May 13 email to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and a slide presentation to the Federal Trade Commission, Twitter said.”

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But the existence of investigations by those agencies isn’t a revelation: The Wall Street Journal broke the news back in May. The SEC, for its part, found it suspicious that Musk was late making the required disclosures to the government when he amassed 5 percent of Twitter’s stock earlier this year. As Slate’s Alex Kirshner wrote at the time, the government had a “nearly airtight, mostly pointless case against Elon Musk.” The FTC was also investigating Musk’s initial purchases of Twitter shares—eventually he reached 9 percent—on antitrust grounds. It could be that there are other SEC or FTC investigations, or that some other agency is looking into Musk right now.

Does this matter to Elon Musk’s on, then off, now on, except maybe off attempts to buy Twitter? Perhaps only insofar as it shows us the late date at which Musk’s legal team was still acting as shady as a Boring Company tunnel. The same day that Twitter asked the court to make Musk’s lawyers produce these documents, Musk offered to buy Twitter at the original price he offered back in the spring, and the judge in the case gave the parties until the end of this month to work out a deal. That’s more or less where we are now, with Twitter and Musk maybe, possibly working things out in private. (There was also a court back-and-forth related to Twitter whistleblower Peiter “Mudge” Zatko this week, but the Elon Musk Shenanigans Watch can only process so many potential shenanigans before he has to go to bed.)

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So instead of waging war against Twitter on, um, Twitter, Musk has been dabbling in an actual war. He proposed a plan to end Russia’s conflict with Ukraine that seemed kind of Kremlin-friendly, then denied a report that he had recently had a conversation with Vladimir Putin. He also suggested Taiwan become part of China—a country on which Musk’s Tesla relies for materials, so this was yet another red flag. He also tried to broker peace with Kanye West, who spent his weekend being kicked off of Instagram and then Twitter for posting anti-Semitic threats:

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The least consequential thing Musk did all week was come up with a new novelty product: Burnt Hair, a perfume. It appears to be a hit. Given some other news—that some of Musk’s original co-investors in his effort to take Twitter private want out now—he may not even be kidding about needing the money:

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Shenanigans Ruling: There is a lot of shenanigans smoke here, but there may not be a shenanigans fire, as none of these developments would seem to get in the way of Musk and Twitter actually closing a deal, if that’s what he really wants, which he may not. This has been Elon Musk Shenanigans Watch. We will surely see you soon.

A meter showing Elon Musk in various degrees of clown makeup, pointing to "Possible Shenanigans."
Photo illustration/animation by Slate. Photos by Theo Wargo/WireImage via Getty Images Plus, John Shearer/Getty Images, Taylor Hill/Getty Images, and Getty Images Plus.
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