What we know about Elon Musk is really “Elon Musk,” the persona of the billionaire memelord who hides his personal fears and longings behind dumb jokes and attempts to buy and then back out of buying Twitter for $44 billion. But Musk is now in the most high-stakes litigation of his career around this buyer’s remorse, a case that could imperil his vast $240 billion or so fortune, and central to that lawsuit is digging into his texts and emails to get at what the man really thinks. For Twitter, this is critical. It wants to show that Musk was fishing around for reasons to blow up the deal, and that is key to winning its case and making Musk buy the company.
So today, lawyers for Twitter made a notable contribution to the record, in that it shows that Musk has a fear of Vladimir Putin — at least a fear that he could blow up the world and make a big acquisition moot. On May 8, Musk texted Michael Grimes, the superstar tech banker at Morgan Stanley, “Let’s slow down just a few days. Putin speech tomorrow is extremely important. It won’t make sense to buy Twitter if we’re heading into World War III,” according to a presentation by William Savitt, the lawyer for Twitter, who read out the text.
This was presented in Delaware Chancery Court today as part of an unwieldy hearing about all manner of things that I’m going to go into more depth about tomorrow in Court Appearances. But here’s the context: A few weeks before, Musk had actually clinched the deal to buy Twitter. Five days later, he tweeted that the deal was “on hold.” At the time, Russia was also making noise about using nuclear weapons. The idea that Savitt is going for here is that Musk was looking for a pretext — it was brought up in the context of a question from Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick about Musk’s lack of due diligence — to blow up the deal.
Still, we’re not in World War III, right? The next day, Putin gave a sword-rattling Victory Day speech commemorating the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, but the war in Ukraine had already been going on for more than a month and he didn’t escalate it further. In reality, a comment from Savitt might be more enlightening: “The truth is Mr. Musk has managed to produce next to no evidence as to why he’s changed his mind.” If a hypothetical fear about nuclear annihilation is all that Twitter has to argue at this point, is that really enough?