Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s lawyer has accused the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) or leaking information about a federal probe to retaliate against him, CNBC has reported. “It has become clearer and clearer that the Commission is out to retaliate against my clients for exercising their First Amendment rights—most recently by criticizing the Commission on the public docket and by petitioning this Court for relief,” said Musk attorney Alex Spiro.
It’s the latest shot fired by Musk in his ongoing dispute with the SEC that started in 2018 when he said that he had secured funding for a private buyout of Tesla at $420 a share — something many (including the SEC) interpreted as an attempt at a weed joke. The SEC fined Tesla and Musk $20 million each over that and forced Musk to step down as chairman for at least three years. Tesla also had to implement a system for monitoring Musk’s statements about the company on Twitter and other media.
Musk has been chafing against those rules lately, however. Earlier this month he accused the SEC of conducting a “harassment campaign,” and “stifling” has First Amendment free speech rights. The SEC responded earlier this week, saying its frequent check-ins with Tesla were effectively required by the court overseeing the 2018 settlement. It also rebutted Musk’s other complaint, saying that it was making progress disbursing the $40 million fine to shareholders as it had promised.
Musk’s lawyers alleged that at least one SEC member had leaked “certain information regarding its investigation,” but it didn’t say who or which information. Tesla revealed in its 2021 Q4 earnings report that the SEC subpoenaed the company and Musk, seeking information on how they’re complying with the 2018 settlement.
Musk previously ran afoul of the 2018 settlement a year later after tweeting information about Tesla vehicle production that wasn’t approved by the company’s “disclosure counsel.” His lawyers accused the SEC of violating his free speech rights then, too. Musk and Tesla eventually agreed to a revised settlement that required him to get approval in advance for any tweets or other communication from an “experienced securities lawyer.”