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Elon Musk's lawyers: SEC contempt motion "smacks of retaliation and censorship"

by Justin King

The legal team argues that the SEC is simply miffed over Musk's critical comments in a 60 Minutes interview.

Lawyers representing Tesla chief Elon Musk have responded to the Securities and Exchange Commission's motion to have the executive held in contempt for allegedly violating a settlement agreement.

The legal team has argued that the SEC's action is unwarranted and should be viewed as 'retaliation' for Musk's statement that "I want to be clear, I do not respect the SEC" in an interview with 60 Minutes.

"This contempt action, following Musk's sincerely-held criticism of the SEC on 60 Minutes ... reflects concerning and unprecedented overreach on the part of the SEC," according to a legal filing reviewed by CNBC.

The SEC has apparently taken issue with a recent comment that "Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019," which Musk posted on Twitter after trading hours and quickly clarified that he meant an annualized weekly volume that equates to 500,000 in a year. The company expects to build closer to 400,000 cars this year. Both numbers were mentioned in prior Tesla quarterly earnings reports and an analyst conference call.

Musk's lawyers claim he has complied with the SEC settlement handed down in the wake of the company's failed bid to go private. The executive has "dramatically reduced his volume of tweets generally and regarding Tesla in particular."

Critics of the SEC point out that the agency's enforcement actions have had a negative impact on Tesla's share price and the vast majority of shareholders likely want to keep Musk on as chief executive.

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