Elon Musk doesn’t respect the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), he said in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes that aired Sunday night.
Musk told CBS’s Lesley Stahl that none of his tweets have been censored since reaching a settlement with the SEC in September. He said that no one has to read his tweets before he hits send. He also explained he’d personally picked his successor as Tesla’s chairperson, before undercutting her authority by saying he could “get anything done that I want.”
The Tesla CEO announced in a tweet this August that he wanted to take his electric car company private, and that he had “funding secured” from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. The from-the-hip announcement sent Tesla’s stock price soaring. When it became clear that Musk did not have a deal in place, though, the SEC spun up an investigation and swiftly filed a securities fraud lawsuit against Musk over the tweet.
Two days later, Musk reached a settlement with the agency that required him to pay a $20 million fine, step down as chairman of the Tesla, name two new independent directors to the board, and install oversight regarding his public communications about the company — including his tweets.
“The only tweets that would have to be, say, ‘reviewed’ would be if a tweet had a probability of causing a movement in the stock [price],” Musk told Stahl. “Otherwise, it’s, ‘hello, first amendment.’ Like, freedom of speech is fundamental.”
The language of the settlement that he signed in September states that he has to:
comply with all mandatory procedures implemented by Tesla, Inc. (the “Company”) regarding (i) the oversight of communications relating to the Company made in any format, including, but not limited to, posts on social media (e.g. Twitter), the Company’s website (e.g. the Company’s blog), press releases, and investor calls, and (ii) the pre-approval of any such written communications that contain, or reasonably could contain, information material to the Company or its shareholders.
That language doesn’t say every tweet he crafts needs to be run by a lawyer — only the ones that could influence the market. In theory, then, Musk is free to tweet “I [black heart emoji] anime” without consulting one of Tesla’s lawyers.
But unless someone is screening every tweet Musk wants to send, it’s difficult to say for sure that the market-influencing tweets will all be properly vetted before they’re published. The oversight the SEC wanted to be put in place, then, appears to be completely reliant on him.
Stahl pressed Musk on this potential gap in the logic, and Musk laughed it off before taking a direct shot at the SEC. Here’s the full exchange:
STAHL: “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?”
MUSK: “Well, I guess we might make some mistakes. Who knows?”
STAHL: “Are you serious?”
MUSK: “Nobody’s perfect.” [Laughs.]
STAHL: “Look at you.”
MUSK: “I want to be clear, I do not respect the SEC. I do not respect them”
STAHL: “But you’re abiding by the settlement, aren’t you?”
MUSK: “Because I respect the justice system.”
In a statement released after this article was originally published, a spokesperson for Tesla said the company 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.”
Later in the interview, Musk was asked about his company’s new chairperson, Robyn Denholm, who replaced him as part of the settlement. The “impression was that [Denholm] was put in to kind of watch over you,” Stahl said. Typically, the job of the chairperson of a board of directors is to serve as the CEO’s boss.
“That’s not realistic, in the sense that I’m the largest shareholder in the company, and I can just call for a shareholder vote and get anything done that I want,” Musk replied.
Stahl did not ask Musk about the part of the settlement that required him to pay a $20 million fine as a result of his tweets from August. But when he was asked about the fine October he said — on Twitter, of course — paying out that money was “worth it.”
Update December 10th, 12:15AM ET: Added statement from Tesla.