LOS ANGELES (CN) – Billionaire Elon Musk endured a second day of questioning Wednesday in a defamation suit over his tweet calling a British cave expert a “pedo guy.”
The tweet itself was composed in the matter of minutes amid a busy schedule of an 80- to 100-hour work week, Musk testified in a Los Angeles federal courtroom Wednesday.
Musk, 48, says he made a flippant comment in the summer of 2018 about Vernon Unsworth, who criticized Musk during a CNN interview over the Tesla CEO’s efforts to help with the rescue of 12 boys trapped in a flooded cave. Musk and a team of SpaceX engineers crafted mini-subs or pods to be used in the rescue mission in Thailand.
They were never used. Unsworth said Musk’s efforts were a PR stunt and he could stick the sub “where it hurts.”
Musk testified that Unsworth’s comments were “extremely rude and contentious.”
“He was rude and insulting and I insulted him back,” Musk said on the witness stand, adding, “Regrettable.”
Musk apologized multiple times, including on Twitter and during his testimony. Under direct examination by his attorney Alex Spiro, Musk was asked if he was accusing Unsworth of pedophilia.
“Absolutely not,” said Musk.
He deleted the tweets that included the “pedo guy” comment shortly after he posted the thread, but screenshots survived.
Musk was asked by Unsworth’s attorney Lin Wood if Musk recalls writing several other tweets days before the “pedo guy” insult. Wood scrolled through several screenshots of Musk’s Twitter timeline.
“Are these yours?” Wood asked Musk.
“Yeah, sure,” Musk said. “I don’t remember every tweet. There are thousands of tweets. I mean, I tweet a lot.”
Wood showed Musk and the jury his apology tweet. “You wanted him to know you were sorry? How could he know? Do you have any evidence he was on Twitter?”
Musk said, “No, but generally anything I say gets media attention.” He called the “pedo guy” comment a flippant, off-the-cuff insult. Wood then asked if “pedo” is the same as “pedo guy.”
“If you add “guy” to something, it makes it less serious. It is more obviously an insult,” Musk replied. “Obviously it’s flippant and no one interpreted that as meaning pedophilia.”
Days after the “pedo guy” tweet, Musk received messages from Tesla shareholders who were worried about the bad press.
On July 17, 2018, an email between Tesla executives and Musk included a statement he could make as a form of apology, but Musk wrote back that they should not respond to a drop in stock prices right after some controversy and “we need to stop panicking.”
Musk said he was encouraged to participate in the rescue efforts by one of the lead rescue officials last summer. Their correspondence was shown to the eight-person jury along with Musk and his team testing the pods at a Los Angeles swimming pool.
Unsworth testified that he felt “humiliated, shamed, dirtied” by Musk’s tweets. “It hurts to talk about it,” Unsworth said while his voice broke. “Disgusting. I find it hard to read the word.”
While Unsworth received the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire earlier this year for his involvement in the rescue efforts, he said it still does not change his attitude about Musk’s comments and the whole ordeal has made him lose self-confidence and become withdrawn.
In August 2018, when Musk tweeted, “You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me?” Unsworth said the insinuation was if he didn’t sue, the allegations would be true.
“Effectively from Day 1, I was given a life sentence without parole,” Unsworth testified.
British cave diver Richard Stanton called Unsworth a source of knowledge on the Tham Luang Cave complex and he even drew a micro-detailed map of the cave. Stanton testified he sent Unsworth a summary report of the rescue operation after Unsworth’s interview on CNN.
Later, Unsworth would request the email exchange Stanton had with Musk where he provided broad specifications on the dimensions for the mini-subs.
Unsworth said those requests were for his own understanding of the operation and just a coincidence that they coincided with the then pending litigation.
The defamation suit centers on one tweet. U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson emphasized this outside the presence of the jury on Wednesday.
A September 2018 Buzzfeed article was referenced by Unsworth’s attorneys on Tuesday, in which the reporter published an email that Musk said was off the record. In that message, Musk talked about hiring an investigator who provided false information about Unsworth.
Jared Birchall, manager of Musk’s family office, contacted the investigator using an alias email address and asked the man to dig up dirt on Unsworth. But that investigator, James Howard, turned out to be a con man and cost Musk about $54,000.
On Wednesday, Birchall testified he’s used the alias “Jim Brickhouse” numerous times to make other arrangements for Musk and his family, like planning trips.
“The center of what I do is confidentiality… to take that extra discretion,” said Birchall. But he also accidentally responded to a message from Howard with his personal email address at one point.
Howard, who claimed he was from Jupiter Military & Tactical Systems, signed a nondisclosure agreement as directed by Birchall in August 2018, shortly after Musk learned that Unsworth was going to file his defamation lawsuit.
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