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Elon Musk denies sexual misconduct allegation

Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station on May 30, 2000.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk and the SpaceX team are recognized by Vice President Mike Pence at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center following the launch of the company’s Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station on May 30, 2000. (Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Elon Musk has denied an allegation that he sexually harassed a flight attendant in 2016, characterizing it as part of a smear campaign against him.

The claim surfaced yesterday (May 19) in a story by Business Insider (opens in new tab), which based its report on the account of a friend of the alleged victim. According to a declaration signed by the friend, during a 2016 SpaceX corporate-jet flight, Elon Musk asked the attendant to come into his cabin and give him a full-body massage.

"When she arrived, the attendant found that Musk 'was completely naked except for a sheet covering the lower half of his body,'" Business Insider wrote (opens in new tab). "During the massage, the declaration says, Musk 'exposed his genitals' and then 'touched her and offered to buy her a horse if she would "do more," referring to the performance of sex acts.'"

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According to the Business Insider report, the flight attendant filed a complaint, which was resolved in November 2018 when SpaceX paid her a $250,000 severance package "in exchange for a promise not to sue over the claims."

Musk has denied the allegations in a series of tweets over the past two days, calling them (opens in new tab) "wild accusations" that are "utterly untrue" and challenging the flight attendant's friend (opens in new tab) to describe any feature of his anatomy, such as scars or tattoos, "that isn't known by the public."

The SpaceX and Tesla chief also described the Business Insider story (opens in new tab) as a "hit piece" designed "to interfere with the Twitter acquisition" and claimed that it "was written before they even talked to me." (Musk submitted a $44 billion bid to buy Twitter, which the company's board recently approved. But it's unclear at this point (opens in new tab) if the sale will actually go through.)

"The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens — this is their standard (despicable) playbook — but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech," Musk added in another tweet (opens in new tab) on Thursday night.

The "they" in this tweet is an apparent reference to Democrats or the left in a more general sense. On Wednesday (May 18), for example, Musk tweeted the following (opens in new tab): "In the past I voted Democrat, because they were (mostly) the kindness party. But they have become the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican. Now, watch their dirty tricks campaign against me unfold…"

Business Insider says that it reached out to Musk before publishing the report. When asked to comment on the allegation, according to Business Insider, Musk requested more time and said that there's "a lot more to this story." 

"If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light," Musk wrote via email, according to Business Insider. The billionaire entrepreneur also called the story a "politically motivated hit piece."

According to John Cook (opens in new tab), investigations editor at Insider, the publication reached out to Musk at around 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) on Wednesday — about three hours before Musk posted his "dirty tricks" tweet.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.