Elon Musk was grilled by the lawyer for his opponent in a defamation lawsuit in a Los Angeles court Tuesday afternoon.
The billionaire Tesla founder was cross-examined by an attorney for British diver Vernon Unsworth, who sued him after Musk called him a ‘pedo guy’ on Twitter.
Musk told the court that he did not know that Unsworth was deeply involved in the cave rescue of 12 Thai boys when he insulted him on Twitter.
‘I just thought he was some random creepy guy the media were interviewing,’ Musk said. ‘I thought at the time he was unrelated to the rescue.’
Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and dark tie, Musk sat in the witness box and answered questions from Unsworth’s Georgia attorney, Lin Wood.
Sparks flew between Musk and Wood during his cross-examination, as the billionaire claimed a legal letter Wood sent him last August threatening a lawsuit was ‘a shake down letter from a shake down lawyer’.
A court sketch shows the billionaire Tesla founder being cross-examined Tuesday by an attorney for British diver Vernon Unsworth, who sued him after Musk called him a ‘pedo guy’ on Twitter
British cave diver Vernon Unsworth is shown with Judge Stephen Brown looking on in a courtroom drawing
Vernon Unsworth arrived outside US District Court in L.A. on Tuesday (left). Musk is seen right before testifying in court
‘You couch it in nice language but in truth it is extortion,’ Musk said. ‘I think that you’re looking for a significant payday… I suspect you don’t work for free.’
‘Neither do you,’ Wood replied and Musk shot back ‘actually I do’ before the judge put a stop to the argument.
Under cross-examination, the Tesla founder admitted that some of his tweets were not ‘completely thoughtful’, but claimed that he was reacting to Unsworth’s comments, claiming the diver ‘flat out lied’ about him in an interview with CNN.
After the 12 boys and their soccer coach were rescued from a flooding cave in Thailand by divers, who did not use a miniature submarine that Musk had built and flown over to aid the mission, Unsworth told CNN Musk’s intervention was just a publicity stunt and that he should ‘stick his submarine where it hurts’.
‘I assume he did not mean literally to sodomise me with the submarine, just as I didn’t literally mean he was a pedophile,’ an exasperated Musk told Wood, his armed folded as he sat in the witness box.
‘There are a lot of things that I say, not all of them have the same quality of thought,’ he admitted. ‘At times I’m quite verbose. Some of it is more thoughtful than others. Not all of it is completely thoughtful.’
Musk leaves court after the first day of the hearing. Under cross-examination, the Tesla founder admitted that some of his tweets were not ‘completely thoughtful’
Musk inside the courthouse, passing through security on Tuesday. He has said he will not settle
Musk was escorted into the courthouse by what looked like a huddle of bodyguards
Unsworth’s 67-year-old Georgia attorney grilled Musk about when he knew he was being sued.
The attorney showed the jury a tweet by the billionaire sent on August 28 2018, asking ‘You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me? He was offered free legal services.’
Wood pointed out that he had sent his letter threatening a lawsuit three weeks earlier on August 6, and that Musk had hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Unsworth on August 15.
‘It’s just what I said,’ Musk told the court, referring to his tweet. ‘He said he was going to sue me. He hadn’t filed… it was odd.’
When asked if he knew about the legal letter threatening a lawsuit before he sent his August 28 tweet, Musk said: ‘I’m not certain but I do not think I had seen your letter, but I was told about it.’
Wood then triumphantly pointed to a line from Musk’s previous deposition, where the Tesla founder confirmed he had seen the legal letter before August 28.
Unsworth arrived much earlier in the day with his attorney, Lin Wood
Unsworth’s attorney also questioned Musk about a $52,000 payment he made to the supposed private investigator, who had twice emailed Musk and his staff offering to dig up dirt about the diver – and who later turned out to be a confidence trickster.
The SpaceX founder admitted that he hired the alleged bogus investigator, James Howard, after learning that Unsworth was planning a lawsuit in August last year.
‘It didn’t become apparent the degree to which he was a professional con man until much later,’ Musk told the court.
The billionaire said he left it up to his family office manager Jared Birchall to vet the investigator, and admitted that Birchall used a fake name when emailing the PI.
‘He did say he was taking steps to ensure there would not be some embarrassing email from him that would hit the press,’ Musk said. ‘I was not involved in the details of the interactions with this guy.
‘When it became clear a lawsuit would be filed I thought we’d better take this guy up on his offer.
‘I relied upon Jared Birchall, my family office manager. I assumed he’d done checks.’
After sitting for more than six hours of cross-examination, Musk answered some questions from his own lawyer, Alex Spiro.
Musk told him that he had offered his assistance to the cave rescue team for free, and had not given any media interviews over his involvement at the time.
The inventor said he provided the rescue team with batteries and electrical equipment to help them pump water out of the cave to stop the boys trapped inside from drowning.
Musk accused Unsworth of having ‘flat out lied’ that the billionaire was asked to leave after travelling from the US to the cave site, and insisted that the Thai Navy Seals running the rescue mission were in fact ‘extremely welcoming’.
Plaintiff attorney L. Lin Wood is shown with Elon Musk (L) and Judge Stephen Brown looking on Tuesday
Earlier in the day at court, one of the potential jurors bowed out of the process, saying he could not be impartial because he has an interview at Musk’s SpaceX next week.
Other jurors called in for the beginning of the trial were excused for owning stock in Musk’s companies, and two avoided jury duty because they owned Teslas.
Musk’s lawyers also vetoed four potential jurors, most of whom were older women, and the two sides settled on a jury of three men and five women.
After the eight were sworn in at the Los Angeles federal court, lawyers for Musk and Unsworth, gave opening statements.
Attorney Taylor Wilson said his client Unsworth suffered ‘shame, mortification, worry and stress’ over the accusations, smearing ‘what should have been one of the proudest moments of his life,’ after all 12 of the young soccer players and their coach were brought out of the cave alive.
Musk’s team has said in the past that he refuses to settle the case.
Among his defenses so far have been that the term ‘pedo guy’ does not mean pedophile in South Africa, where Musk is from; that it was not him who suggested Unsworth was a pedophile, it was his private investigator, and that he did not expect BuzzFeed to publish what he put in the email without verifying it themselves.
He has also accused Unsworth of being fame-hungry and money-grabbing, saying he has tried to squeeze book and movie deals out of the entire saga along with filing multiple lawsuits to try to win damages.
Among those on Musk’s witness list are the British diver’s first wife, Vanessa – who Musk and his lawyers claim he abandoned to go to Thailand – and his current wife, the Thai women he was falsely accused of marrying when she was a child.
Unsworth’s lawyers have called the Tesla billionaire ‘thin-skinned’ and a ‘bully’.
He is seeking unspecified damages that are to be determined by a jury.
The judge, Stephen V Wilson, told the jury the case would last approximately one week.
Spiro plans to continue his questioning of Musk on Wednesday, followed by further cross-examination of the billionaire by Wood.
TIMELINE OF THE THAI RESCUE AND MUSK AND UNSWORTH’S DISPUTE
June 23 2018: The boys and their soccer coach become trapped in the caves
July 8: Musk tweets that he is using Tesla engineers to build a ‘kid size’ submarine to try to get them out
The Thai soccer team got lost in caves while exploring and became stuck for days. Musk offered to help and sent a team of Tesla engineers to build a submarine to get them out
July 8 – 10: The boys were rescued gradually in a complex mission involving hundreds of people
July 13: Vernon Unsworth gives a CNN interview where he is asked about Musk’s plan. He calls it a ‘PR stunt’ and says: ‘He can stick it where it hurts’ in reference to the submarine
July 15: Musk tweets calling him a ‘pedo guy’
July 17: Musk apologizes
August 15: Musk hires private investigator James Howard after he got in touch with him saying, in an email: ‘Dear Elon, you may wish to dig deep and look into Mr. Unsworth’s past… no smoke without fire!’
They set about launching their ‘investigation’ but go to great lengths to keep Musk separate from it. In emails, Musk’s associate Jared Birchall carried out their dealings and Musk was referred to as ‘the principle’. He and Birchall never discussed it in writing.
August 28: Musk tweets in response to a follower who accused him of lying about Unsworth: ‘You don’t think it’s strange he hasn’t sued me yet?
August 30: BuzzFeed reporter emails Musk for a comment. He replies saying, among other things, that Unsworth married a ‘child bride’ and inferring that he is a rapist
September 4: BuzzFeed publishes the story
September 5: Private Investigator emails Birchall, Musk’s associate, saying: ‘At no time have have I reported that the target is a child rapist.’
September 17: Unsworth files a lawsuit against Musk