Facing Federal Court, Mass. AG Tries to Change Story on #ExxonKnew

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has shifted her justification for a controversial probe of Exxon Mobil, according to remarks published by the Boston Globe. The change comes as Healey is being forced to appear in federal court over the politically-motivated nature of her investigation.

As the Boston Globe reported this morning, Healey made it very clear during a March 29 press conference with Al Gore that she had already determined Exxon’s guilt before she even began her investigation. As she said,

“Fossil fuel companies that deceived investors and consumers about the dangers of climate change should be, must be, held accountable. We can all see today the troubling disconnect between what Exxon knew, what industry folks knew, and what the company and industry chose to share with investors and with the American public.” (emphasis added)

But now she’s trying to walk back these statements. As she told the Boston Globe this week,

“The goal of this investigation is to get to the bottom of what happened, whether or not it’s true that Exxon knew certain information and made misrepresentations to consumers and investors. It’s as simple as that.” (emphasis added)

This change in rhetoric comes after a Texas federal judge issued a discovery order to determine whether “bias or prejudgment” influenced Healey’s decision to initiate what could be a “bad faith” investigation into ExxonMobil. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was recently added to that discovery order, which opens the door to an extensive examination of both AGs’ internal documents. Such an examination may show the extent to which they were conspiring with outside groups, and if their motivation to launch these investigations was political.

Like Healey, Schneiderman has repeatedly tried to change his justification for investigating Exxon Mobil.

The discovery order isn’t the only major blow to the campaign lately. A New York judge recently ordered that Schneiderman will now have to comply with a Freedom of Information request by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which Schneiderman has thus far ignored. As the New York Post editorial board put it,

“The think tank’s lawyers believe the documents could show improper conduct by the AGs. If they do, Schneiderman faces serious trouble.”

The Post went on to make the important point that this #ExxonKnew crusade isn’t cheap – and it’s the taxpayers who are on the hook:

“Oh, and New York taxpayers are out some more cash over the AG’s bid to dodge the Freedom of Information Law: The court ordered Schneiderman to cover CEI’s court costs, because his defense of his denial of the FOIL request was so transparently lame. (His brief merely quoted New York law, without even making any argument as to why it applied in this case.)”

The Boston Herald previously reported that Healey’s antics are costing taxpayers top dollar, too, as she has hired one of the most expensive law firms in Dallas to represent her.

“Attorney General Maura Healey’s office has shelled out $44,000 and counting to a high-powered Texas law firm a judge dubbed the ‘most expensive’ in the Dallas area as she fights an order to appear in the Lone Star State over her probe of Exxon Mobil…

“The rates for individual McKool Smith lawyers could not be determined, but its founding partner, Mike McKool, reportedly charges $1,050 an hour, according to a 2015 story in the Houston Chronicle.”

That’s why the Herald’s editorial board recently noted,

“If Attorney General Maura Healey wants to campaign for governor or whatever office she covets, fine. But if that campaign is being waged at public expense, well, that could come back to haunt her politically.

“Case in point, her recent vendetta against Exxon Mobil…”

We already know through previous Freedom of Information Act requests that environmental activist lawyer Matt Pawa and Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) briefed the AGs behind closed doors ahead of their March 29th press conference with Al Gore to announce their investigations. But, when Pawa wrote to the New York Attorney General’s office to inform them he’d been asked by a Wall Street Journal reporter about his involvement, Lem Srolovic of Schneiderman’s office told him“My ask is if you speak to the reporter, to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event.”

As part of their effort to keep their correspondence secret, the AGs also signed on to a Common Interest Agreement, and the document shows that the agreement was not related to a legitimate law-enforcement objective – instead it was focused on “limit[ing] climate change” and “ensuring the dissemination of accurate information about climate change.”

So it’s not surprising that Schneiderman and Healey are fighting tooth and nail not to have to comply with the discovery order or FOIA requests. But the New York Post probably put it best, saying,

“If [Schneiderman] does keep refusing to comply with the Freedom of Information Law, you have to think he’s worried about what those documents will reveal.”

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