Tesla asked Cooley to fire lawyer who worked on SEC Elon Musk probe

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk unveils a new all-wheel-drive version of the Model S car in Hawthorne, California October 9, 2014.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

A lawyer for Tesla asked a law firm to fire one its attorneys or risk losing its work for the electric automaker led by Elon Musk, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The lawyer that Tesla wanted Cooley LLP to fire previously worked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The attorney interviewed Musk in the agency’s probe into the Tesla CEO’s 2018 claim that he obtained funding to take Tesla private, according to the publication. The investigation led to a settlement under which Musk and Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million fine each and Musk agreed to step down for three years as Tesla chairman.

Tesla’s lawyer late last year asked Cooley to fire the attorney who worked on the SEC investigation, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. The firm did not remove the associate.

Tesla has moved to replace Cooley or hire additional lawyers on several cases since December, according to the Journal.

Musk’s rocket company SpaceX has also stopped working with the law firm on regulatory issues, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Tesla has its own ties to the SEC. The company hired David Misler, a former trial attorney for the agency, as a managing counsel.

Musk has clashed with more regulators than the SEC. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has investigated whether Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system is at least partly to blame for crashes in which Tesla cars ran into parked first responder vehicles.

The agency brought on Missy Cummings – a Duke University professor, automated systems expert, former Navy fighter pilot and Tesla critic – as an advisor in the probe. Musk in October tweeted that “her track record is extremely biased against Tesla,” sparking an outcry among his followers.

The NHTSA later required Cummings to recuse herself from Tesla-specific matters, the Journal reported Saturday.

Tesla, SpaceX and Cooley did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests to comment.

Read the full Journal report here.

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to show that Musk and Tesla each agreed to pay a $20 million fine and Musk agreed to step down temporarily as Tesla’s chairman.”

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