December 10, 2018

Elon Musk: 'I do not respect the SEC'

Elon Musk settled securities fraud charges brought against him by the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this year, but he is not done deriding the agency.

"I want to be clear: I do not respect the SEC," he told Lesley Stahl during an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," which aired Sunday.

Musk said he is abiding by the terms of his settlement deal "because I respect the justice system." But he reiterated that there is no love lost between him and the SEC.

Musk and Tesla, the electric car company he runs, reached separate $20 million deals with the agency in September to settle securities fraud charges lodged against Musk that stemmed from statements he made on Twitter. As part of the agreement, Tesla said it would firm up its oversight of Musk's social media use by pre-approving posts that may contain information that is "material" to Tesla's shareholders.

But Musk, who has long been known for his liberal and informal use of Twitter, told Stahl that no one is proofreading all his posts.

"The only tweets that would have to be ... reviewed would be if a tweet had a probability of causing a movement in the stock," he said. "Otherwise, it's --- hello, First Amendment."

Stahl then asked: "But how do they know if it's going to move the market if they're not reading all of them before you send them?"

"Well, I guess we might make some mistakes," Musk replied. "Who knows?"

A Tesla spokesperson said in a statement that it "can confirm the settlement is being complied with."

"This includes having a policy (which technically needs to be in place by December 28) that requires pre-approval of any communications that reasonably could contain material information," the spokesperson said.

The SEC declined to comment.

In September, regulators filed a lawsuit against Musk. The agency alleged he misled investors when he tweeted that he had "secured" funding to take Tesla private at $420 per share, a significant markup over the company's trading price. But Musk had not, in fact, locked down financing for such a deal.

Musk initially signaled he would fight the agency, though he reversed course a few days later. In addition to a fine, Musk agreed to resign from his role as Tesla's chairman.

The company said last month that Robyn Denholm, a Tesla board member and veteran of several tech firms, would take over the role.

Musk, who remains CEO, said in his "60 Minutes" interview that he handpicked her. But he brushed off a suggestion that Denholm would serve as his "babysitter."

"It's not realistic in the sense that I am the largest shareholder in the company," he said. "I can just call for a shareholder vote and get anything done that I want."

He added that he has no interest in one day reclaiming the chairman title.

"I actually just prefer to have no titles at all," he said.

Musk's squabble with the SEC is just one in a string of controversies brought on this year by his erratic behavior that has included disparaging a Thai cave rescue workers, and brushing off analysts' questions during an earnings call as "boring."

Musk said he was "under insane stress and crazy, crazy hours" earlier this year as Tesla struggled with production delays.

"But the system would have failed if I was truly erratic," Musk said. "There's been relentless criticism, relentless and outrageous and unfair ... What actually happened here was an incredible American success story."

Tesla corrected its manufacturing woes and posted a net profit of $312 million in October, by far its largest ever and its first quarterly profit since 2016.

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