New York CNN  — 

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong is confident his battle with federal regulators will benefit the crypto industry, no matter how the judge rules.

For years, the crypto space has operated in a regulatory no-man’s land where there is much uncertainty over what is and isn’t allowed — and over which powerful agency in Washington is calling the shots.

“The whole point of this case from our point of view is to go get regulatory clarity,” Armstrong told CNN on Wednesday. “Regardless of the outcome of the case, it’s a step towards clarity.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission dealt another blow to the crypto industry on Tuesday by suing Coinbase, America’s largest crypto exchange. The SEC alleges Coinbase made billions of dollars facilitating the sale of crypto assets as an unregistered exchange, robbing investors of key protections along the way.

In the interview, Armstrong detailed how Coinbase spent years “begging” regulators for clarity on the rules but was only “met with silence.”

“How could there be an enforcement action if there’s no clear rulebook? That doesn’t make sense and doesn’t pass the smell test,” the Coinbase CEO said.

‘Icy reception’

Armstrong questioned the timing of SEC Chairman Gary Gensler’s decision to file a lawsuit against his company just 24 hours after the agency accused Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange, of mishandling customer funds.

“I do think the timing of doing those back to back was…unfortunate, probably even intentional,” Armstrong said. “He’s trying to paint the industry with a broad brush, which I think people are smart enough to see through.”

Armstrong noted that, unlike with Binance, the SEC did not charge any individual executives at Coinbase nor did it accuse the US exchange of mishandling customer funds.

Asked about his relationship with Gensler, Armstrong described how he tried and failed to meet with the SEC chief in person in Washington. Later, the two men met virtually.

“It was a bit of an icy reception,” said Armstrong. “I’m a reasonable person to get along with. I’ve been able to work with regulators all over the world and other regulators in the US, both at the state and federal level. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t somehow get off on the right foot.”

During the virtual meeting, Armstrong said he expressed a desire to understand how Coinbase could register with the SEC.

“I said, ‘We’re here to register. We’d like to work with you. How can we come into compliance?’ And he said, ‘I’m going to advise you to talk to your lawyers,’” Armstrong said.

‘The US is falling behind’

The SEC did not respond to a request to comment on Armstrong’s comments but argued in a statement on Tuesday that Coinbase knowingly violated the law.

“You simply can’t ignore the rules because you don’t like them or because you’d prefer different ones: the consequences for the investing public are far too great,” said Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “As alleged in our complaint, Coinbase was fully aware of the applicability of the federal securities laws to its business activities, but deliberately refused to follow them.”

Coinbase, and other big crypto players, is hoping Congress steps in to provide the regulatory clarity needed to operate — and that other nations have already provided.

“Europe has passed comprehensive legislation. The UK is moving there. Singapore is moving there, Hong Kong. Basically, the US is falling behind. And I think Congress recognizes this,” Armstrong said.

Asked if San Francisco-based Coinbase would consider moving to a nation where regulations are clearer and where regulators are friendlier, Armstrong said the US uncertainty could cause the company to move more of its investments overseas. But he insisted Coinbase wouldn’t leave.

“It could definitely shift our budget. But to be clear, we’re the leader in the US. We’re not going anywhere. The US is going to get the right outcome. I feel confident with that,” he said.

Coinbase IPO argument is a ‘head fake’

Coinbase has signaled that one of its arguments in court will be to call out that regulators — specifically, the SEC — gave it the green light to go public, just two years ago.

“They allowed us to become a public company,” Armstrong said. “It’s inconsistent. If you go in to meet with the regulator and you disclose all of the aspects of your business and they don’t express a concern at that point, that’s a fact pattern.”

However, some securities experts point out that the SEC’s IPO process isn’t meant to be a blanket blessing for everything the company is doing.

“Coinbase’s argument about the SEC sign-off on its IPO is a head fake,” Adam Levitin, a professor at Georgetown Law, told CNN in an email on Wednesday. “Just as getting a title to a car doesn’t mean that the vehicle passes the emissions test, getting SEC sign-off on an IPO doesn’t mean that a company is otherwise in compliance with federal securities laws.”