New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating ExxonMobil for nearly two years and during that time, he’s received 2.4 million pages of company documents. Yet all he has to show for it is a company-issued alternate email for former Exxon president and CEO – now Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson.
As he has done many times in the past, Schneiderman immediately ran to the press in an attempt to manufacture controversy. Meanwhile, he has repeatedly refused to turn over emails between his office and major donors of the #ExxonKnew campaign – including the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Rockefeller Family Fund, and billionaire activist Tom Steyer. We know these emails exist because he was forced to disclose a log of correspondence, which show close coordination particularly with Lee Wasserman of the Rockefeller Family Fund and Tom Steyer’s office, that date back to early 2015, long before the original #ExxonKnew hit pieces were published.
Could it be that Mr. Schneiderman has a lot to hide and is trying to create a distraction?
A court filing by ExxonMobil, released today, shows why the New York attorney general doesn’t have a leg to stand on legally. But more importantly, it lays out how his latest move is yet more evidence that he is waging a politically motivated campaign, not a legitimate investigation.
From the filing:
Obtaining publicity, not information, appears to have been the real goal of the NYAG’s March 13 letter. Under this Court’s rules, discovery disputes such as this one, should be resolved bilaterally, between the parties, prior to being raised with the Court. But the Attorney General did not do so, raising his concerns about the Wayne Tracker email account for the first time in a public filing received by the Court, ExxonMobil, and the press at the same time. Such an approach does not serve the productive resolution of discovery disputes, but it does serve the NYAG’s well-established preference to litigate his case in the press rather than court. That objective also explains the NYAG’s decision to portray an innocuous business practice unfairly and inaccurately as a sinister effort to withhold information. (emphasis added)
Recall that a federal judge recently issued a discovery order to determine if Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey were using “bias and prejudgment” and therefore launching a “bad-faith” investigation into the company. Schneiderman’s PR campaign over the past few days isn’t helping his case there.
But this manufactured email controversy is only the beginning.
When Schneiderman first began his investigation, instead of maintaining the confidentiality that is expected in a case such as this, he went on a media tour. Mere hours after Exxon received Schneiderman’s subpoena, The New York Times was reporting on it, noting that it focused on “the company’s own long running scientific research” on climate change. Only a week later, Schneiderman appeared on PBS NewsHour to discuss it and then attended a Politico event in New York where he was openly prejudicial in his rhetoric about his investigation into ExxonMobil.
And, of course, everyone remembers the infamous March 29th press conference with Al Gore where Schneiderman and Healey made it very clear that they had already determined Exxon’s guilt before the investigation ever began.
It also doesn’t help his case that his behavior over the last 18 months has been straight out of the #ExxonKnew playbook.
Environmental activist groups gathered for a closed door meeting in January 2016 at the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) offices, where they discussed the ways they would try to “delegitimize” Exxon as a political actor by getting state AGs involved and “creating scandal.” They said they would “establish a rapid response and coordination structure to react to new research, revelations and legal developments as they happen” that includes “a war room, joint social media, and coordinated organizing and media pushes.” They’ve certainly followed through on that plan with the help of Schneiderman, although they haven’t exactly been successful.
The bottom line is that it’s always been clear that Schneiderman’s attack on Exxon is about politics and not a legitimate legal pursuit. Perhaps former New York Attorney General Dennis Vacco put it best in an op-ed this week:
This investigation, into whether ExxonMobil covered up its research on climate change, appears to be politically motivated and encouraged by contributors to Schneiderman’s political campaign. The New York Post reported on email between the offices of the Attorney General and Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmental activist and green-energy investor, regarding a reported run for governor. Recently, “Team Schneiderman” sent an email message paid for by Schneiderman 2018 to campaign contributors thanking them for supporting his fight against “Big Oil and its allies in Congress.”
I understand the AG’s political ambition, but he should understand that the connection between his anti-Exxon crusade and his apparent wooing of a billionaire and other contributors in pursuit of a possible run for governor undermines the public’s confidence in the seriousness of his probe.