Senate Democrats on the Armed Forces Committee are calling for an inquiry into billionaire Elon Musk’s actions regarding his restrictions on the Ukraine military’s use of his Starlink internet satellite system.
Excerpts from a soon-to-be-published book about Musk revealed that he disallowed access to the network during a drone mission near Crimea last year. Initial media reports about the book claim that Musk made the decision after having conversations with senior Russian officials. The recent revelation has elicited praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A statement from Musk defending his action differs from the account laid out in the book. Whereas Musk recently claimed he “refused to act upon a request from Ukraine” to extend the use of Starlink to the region (ostensibly believing that extending use of Starlink to the region would escalate the conflict), the book suggests Musk actively disabled access to the network prior to the mission.
“The differing versions of events further highlights the confusion surrounding the circumstances of this reported incident. The confusion over what actually happened during this Ukrainian attack — and Mr. Musk’s specific role — demands answers,” a letter to the Department of Defense (DOD) from Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Illinois) said.
Excerpts from the book suggest that Musk provided “de facto protection” to Russia, and “raise serious concerns about whether Mr. Musk has personally intervened to undermine a key U.S. partner at a critical juncture,” the letter went on.
Warren specifically demanded a review of military contracts that Musk recently obtained from the DOD.
“We need to investigate how this happened,” Warren said this week. “What’s in those contracts that permits him to have this kind of power?”
It is the “responsibility of the Department of Defense to go back and take a look at those contracts,” Warren added. “That kind of activity poses a danger to the United States, to Ukraine and to the rest of the world.”
Senate Armed Services Committee chair Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) announced on Thursday that, although a formal investigation has not yet begun, “the committee is aggressively probing this issue from every angle.”
Critics on social media have alleged that Musk’s actions against Ukraine may have run afoul of the Logan Act, a federal law that forbids private citizens from interfering in the foreign affairs of the United States government. The text of that act reads as follows:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
“The Logan Act makes it a federal crime for private citizens to conduct foreign policy on their own — not to mention making military decisions that contradict U.S. strategic goals. Elon Musk is doing both,” said political commentator Howard Fineman.
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