On #ExxonKnew, When is Enough, Enough?

A federal district judge’s order last week (which requires Massachusetts district Attorney General Maura Healey to provide additional information to determine if she initiated a “bad faith” investigation into ExxonMobil) raises the important question: when is enough, enough? At this stage it’s pretty clear that the Democratic AGs’ #ExxonKnew campaign is dead. It’s just a matter of time before they find a way to bow out as quietly as possible.

But it might not be that easy to make an inconspicuous exit, as it looks like they’re going to end up in full damage control mode. There’s no question this order will dive even further into the inner workings of the #ExxonKnew campaign, exposing materials that would never see the light of day otherwise, including additional documents, depositions and inquiries. As Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins Jr. put it in a recent interview, this could be “very embarrassing” for Healey – and as for Schneiderman “He’s lucky just to come away from this with egg on his face.” Here’s the video and full text of the interview:


Holman (:27): Yeah, this is a federal judge in Texas basically he gave Exxon the right to demand the notes and phone records and emails of Maura Healy, the Massachusetts Attorney General who is one of the attorney generals leading this crusade against Exxon for supposedly concealing its knowledge of climate science.  So basically the judge said there is good evidence in advance of a further investigation that the Massachusetts AG entered this case with bias against Exxon, was already talking about Exxon’s guilt before the investigation began. That she did it for political reasons. The AG’s had gotten together with Al Gore and a bunch of environmental groups and said that they were launching this litigation in order to advance the cause of climate change policy, not having to do with the justice, which is the job of AG’s. So he said, basically Exxon can go look for evidence that this was a bad faith prosecution from the get-go.

Kissel (1:20): Now, could Attorney General Healy be in legal trouble here, Holman, for bringing this case then in the first place? What’s the next step here?

Holman (1:28): Yeah, well they’re going to litigate this for a while but she, unlike Eric Schneiderman the New York Attorney General who has the Martin Act powers – he can issue subpoenas on his own – she had to go to a Massachusetts superior court to get her Exxon subpoena approved. So now, the Massachusetts court stands in danger of finding that its subpoena was improper by the federal court. So that would be very embarrassing for her and potentially would have legal consequences down the road if this litigation continues. I imagine at some point, if Exxon is winning it’ll just let her off the hook in order to get this whole case dropped. But it makes her look pretty bad.

Kissel (2:04): Well you mentioned Eric Schneiderman from New York, you also had the California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who’s now running for Senate involved in this press release, this very public campaign against Exxon. Have Schneiderman and Harris essentially let this drop and could they be worried too about the negative press, the negative political ramifications for them?

Holman (2:29): I don’t think so. Harris in California paid lip service to this campaign but never did anything about it so she’s kind of off the hook and she’s running for Senate now. Eric Schneiderman is somewhat embarrassed and in retreat has basically abandoned his argument. Plus he’s been embarrassed by release of an email showing that he tried to flog this Exxon case when he was out fundraising for his hoped-for governor’s bid in a couple of years. That looks like it’s not gonna come off. He’s lucky just to come away from this with egg on his face. I think it’s the Massachusetts AG right now who is in deeper trouble because of the dueling role of these two courts in Massachusetts and Texas looking at the validity of her original subpoena.

The Democratic AGs have spent the past several months trying to skirt transparency laws and avoid Congressional subpoenas. Yet documents uncovered by E&E Legal Foundation as well as reporting on secret meetings behind closed doors by the Wall Street Journal show just how political of a campaign the Democratic AGs have run. This has led just about every editorial board in the country to question the #Exxonknew campaign and call for the AGs to end their political crusade.

Making matters worse for the AGs, we know that they signed on to a Common Interest Agreement to keep their correspondence on the #ExxonKnew investigations secret, only because it was mentioned in previous batches of FIOA’d emails, but E&E Legal actually had to file suit to get a copy of the agreement.  Rhode Island‘s Office of Attorney General wouldn’t provide the actual agreement because it was contained in an attachment, which, they claimed, wasn’t part of the email chain.  The Iowa AG’s office claimed they didn’t have to turn over documents on the grounds that they had signed a Common Interest Agreement, even though they had not actually been party to it.

The AGs’ offices have also worked pretty hard to keep their behind-the-scenes collusion with environmental activists out of the press. After FIOA’d emails revealed that Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists and activist lawyer Matt Pawa had secretly briefed the attorneys general ahead of their March 29 press conference with Al Gore, Schneiderman’s office told those activists effectively to stonewall the press. On March 30, Pawa sent an email to Lem Srolovic with the New York Attorney General’s office, as well as Scot Kline in the Vermont Attorney General’s office, explaining that “a WSJ reporter wants to talk to me. I may not even talk to her at all but if I do I obviously will have no comment on anything discussed at the meeting.” Pawa then asked, “What should I say if she asks if I attended? No comment? Let me know.” Srolovic responded that Pawa should effectively stonewall the WSJ reporter. “My ask is if you speak to the reporter,” Srolovic wrote, “to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event.”

No wonder the Democratic AG’s were quick to welcome the news that the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) is taking over the investigation about how the company assesses the value of its proven reserves. The entire #ExxonKnew coalition has been falling apart since the Al Gore press conference back in March. Now how will Healey and Schneiderman manage to get themselves out of this mess? We’ll find out soon enough.

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