'Talk to your lawyer': Coinbase CEO recounts 'icy' meeting with SEC Chair Gensler

Quick Take

  • Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said he last met with SEC Chair Gary Gensler during an “icy” virtual meeting after several other efforts to meet in person had failed.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said he last met with Gary Gensler, the chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, during an "icy" virtual meeting after several other efforts to meet in person had failed.

"When he first came in as the Chair, I flew out to New York," Armstrong said in an interview during a Bloomberg investment summit. "I reached out to him, our teams reached out. I tried to make an effort to connect with him in person because that's what I try to do whenever a new regulator kind of comes in. Unfortunately, we were not able to connect at that time. I'm not sure why we couldn't get on his calendar."

After several additional attempts in the following year, Armstrong said a virtual meeting was scheduled, possibly because of Covid precautions. 

"It was frankly like a pretty icy reception, I would say," Armstrong said. "We sort of came in hat in hand and said 'hey, Chair Gensler, you've asked people to come in and register. Respectfully, we're here to register. What would you like us to do? What process would you like us to go through?' And his response was, 'Talk to your lawyer. I'm not here to advise you.'"

The comments came a day after the SEC sued Coinbase for allegedly violating U.S. securities laws, the latest move in a long-running battle between the regulator and the crypto exchange. Gensler has previously argued that existing rules are sufficient to regulate the industry and that new legislation is not needed. 

Armstrong said that he didn't believe that Gensler's views are representative of the broader U.S. government:

"When I meet with members of Congress, I think the broad consensus, probably amongst 80% of people I talk to, on both sides of the isle, it's a pretty reasonable view they have, which is 'we don't know exactly what this technology is going to become, but we're seeing every other major financial hub in the world move toward clear legislation. We need to make sure that this innovation happens in the U.S. Let's just protect consumers. Let's apply some basic good ideas around AML, KYC and audited financial statements and make sure there's no wash trading. Let's create a clear market structure.'"

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