Elon Musk’s legal team subpoenas Twitter whistleblower for deposition

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
Elon Musk’s twitter account is seen on a smartphone in front of the Twitter logo in this photo illustration taken, April 15, 2022.

Elon Musk’s legal team subpoenaed Twitter whistleblower Peiter Zatko to appear Sept. 9 for a deposition in an ongoing legal fight over the billionaire’s deal to acquire the social network for $44 billion.

The subpoena seeks any documents Zatko has related to his complaint to federal regulators that Twitter has misled the public about “extreme, egregious deficiencies” in its security practices, as well as any documents related to spam on the platform, the company’s attempts to hide its security vulnerabilities, and allegations that company employs foreign intelligence service agents.

The subpoena, which became public Monday, signals how Zatko’s allegations could factor into the litigation in Delaware’s Chancery Court between Musk and Twitter of the Tesla CEO’s efforts to back out of his pledge to acquire the social network. Musk has alleged that the company is vastly undercounting the number of spam and bot accounts on its platform, and therefore overstating the number of legitimate users.

Zatko’s lawyers said in a statement Monday that he was served with the subpoena Saturday.

“Mr. Zatko will comply with his legal obligations of that subpoena and his appearance at the deposition is involuntary,” Zatko’s lawyers, Debra S. Katz and Alexis Ronickher, said in a statement. “He did not make his whistleblower disclosures to the appropriate governmental bodies to benefit Musk or to harm Twitter, but rather to protect the American public and Twitter shareholders.”

Zatko’s complaint could add ammunition to Musk’s legal arguments. His complaint, which was filed last month with the Securities and Exchange Commission, specifically accuses Twitter of “Lying about Bots to Elon Musk.” He alleges that the company is not incentivized to tally the true number of bots and accounts on the service. Still, there was little hard documentation included in the disclosures viewed by The Washington Post, which obtained the complaint.

The new subpoena became public just days after Musk’s attorneys raised Zatko’s complaint in a hearing where they sought more data from the company about its handling of bots. Alex Spiro, a partner at Quinn Emanuel who is representing Musk, previously told The Post that they had sought a subpoena of Zatko before his whistleblower complaint went public.

In a separate filing late Monday, Twitter alleged that Musk friend and confidante David Sacks was lying about his involvement in the acquisition. The company had previously subpoenaed Sacks, an investor who hosts a popular podcast, to find about his conversations with Musk about the deal.

In response to that subpoena, Sacks tweeted a virtual middle-finger at “Twitter’s lawyers,” then a video of a man urinating on a subpoena while yelling expletives to a cheering crowd. He later told his podcast audience that he had no “relevant information” about the deal, according to the filing Monday.

The filing alleges Sacks had privately communicated about the deal with Musk and that Sacks’s fund, Craft, had “signed a non-disclosure agreement with Musk for the purpose of exchanging confidential information in connection with a potential investment in Twitter.”

Sacks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.