Tesla boss personally takes aim at people he’s clashed with
The target of Mr Musk’s wrath was a former US Securities and Exchange Commission attorney whom Cooley hired for his securities litigation and enforcement practice and who had no involvement in the firm’s work for Tesla. At the SEC, attorneys interviewed Mr Musk during the agency’s investigation of a 2018 tweet by the Tesla chief executive that claimed to have falsely secured funding to take the electric-automaker private it was done.
The investigation resulted in a settlement in which Mr Musk agreed to resign as chairman and pay a $20 million fine. He also agreed to have Tesla counsel review in advance tweets about certain topics, including the company’s financial results, sales numbers and proposed business combinations.
People said Cooley refused to fire the lawyer, who remains an associate at the firm. Since early December, Tesla has begun taking steps in a number of cases to replace Cooley or add additional attorneys, legal documents show. Musk’s rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp., also known as SpaceX, has stopped using Cooley for regulatory work, according to people familiar with the matter.
Neither Tesla, SpaceX, nor Mr Musk responded to requests for comment.
The conversation with Cooley points to a larger pattern for Mr Musk: the lengthy dismissals of regulators, he has recently aimed his displeasure at individuals with ties to regulatory agencies he has tinkered with.
He often expresses his displeasure on Twitter, where he has close to 70 million followers. His comments often lead to an online army rally for his cause.
This past fall, he turned his attention to a longtime critic of Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance technology, Mary “Missy” Cummings, a researcher on how people interact with autonomous systems known as the top Was designated as an advisor to the US auto safety regulator.
The agency launched an investigation into Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance technology after a series of accidents in which Tesla ran into one or more parked emergency vehicles. Such an investigation may be recalled, and it was shaping up to be one of the agency’s most comprehensive investigations of advanced driver-assistance technology to date.
Dr. Cummings, an engineering professor at Duke University, criticized Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance system known as Autopilot. A study published last year that she co-authored found that the company’s technology, which does not make vehicles autonomous, performed inconsistently.
Tesla has said that driving with Autopilot is safer than doing it without it.
Mr Musk, Once his appointment became public, tweeted: “Frankly, his track record is highly biased against Tesla.” There was a flurry of online attacks on Dr. Cummings by Tesla supporters, many of which were obscene.
A petition launched on Change.org called on the agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, to rescind his appointment over an alleged conflict of interest. The petition, which has since been taken off the platform, garnered thousands of signatures.
In the wake of the outcry, according to people familiar with the matter, the agency required Dr. Cummings to privately dissociate itself from Tesla-specific matters.
A spokesman for the US Department of Transportation confirmed Dr. Cummings’ separation. He did not respond to a question whether social media criticism influenced the decision.
It is not uncommon for companies to take issue with government officials fearing that their interests will be hurt, whether through campaign contributions to influence public policy or legal action. Amazon.Com Inc.
meta platform now Inc.,
Unsuccessfully, it has sought the separation of Federal Trade Commission Chair Leena Khan from antitrust cases involving the companies. Before taking on the role, Ms Khan used to criticize the online giants.
Mr Musk has stood out for expressing his criticism in pointed, sometimes derogatory and public comments.
Mr Musk has said he agrees with regulators 99.9% of the time. “On rare occasions, we disagree. This is almost always due to new technologies that the previous regulations did not anticipate,” he tweeted last year.
Early in the pandemic, Musk took aim at a high-ranking county health official in California over government orders to close the company’s Fremont, Calif., vehicle assembly plant to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Tesla is suing Alameda County immediately. Alameda’s unelected and ignorant “Interim Health Officer” governor, president, is acting contrary to our constitutional freedoms and just plain common sense!” Mr Musk tweeted. The company later sued the county.
Two days later, he said Tesla was resuming production in defiance of local officials. Soon after, the county approved Tesla to increase activity at the plant. A spokesman for the county’s public health department said Mr Musk’s public criticism did not affect the county’s decision to flag off Tesla activity.