A new batch of emails, released late Friday afternoon, pulls back the curtain further on the level of collusion and coordination between anti-fossil fuel activists, their funders, and the attorneys general that have launched climate investigations into people, companies, and think tanks with which they disagree on the issue.
These emails, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by The Competitive Enterprise Institute and Chris Horner, show that key activists behind this campaign had hoped they could make a case for prosecuting climate “deniers” under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. But, due to multiple warnings from experts that such a case would have no chance to actually succeed, they decided instead to shift their strategic focus to state-level attorneys general to get the job done. Interestingly, these emails date back to last summer, months before the Rockefeller-funded InsideClimate News and the Columbia School of Journalism published their #ExxonKnew investigations.
The key players that emerge from this latest batch of emails are George Mason University (GMU) professors Jagadish Shukla and Edward Maibach, who spearheaded a letter in September 2015 with several other colleagues to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and President Obama asking them to explore RICO charges against climate “deniers” and their funders.
Here are some other key revelations that come from these emails:
#1: Activists were colluding with state AGs much longer than initially thought
The activists pushing for the climate RICO investigations have been claiming that the “investigative reporting” by InsideClimate News (ICN) and the Columbia School of Journalism were what spurred them to action. But as these new emails reveal, the master plan was already in place and well under way before those articles were published.
In one email, GMU professor Ed Maibach reached out to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to enlist its help in getting activists from every congressional district to sign on to their letter. Peter Frumhoff of UCS replied to that request by saying his organization would not join the effort — because UCS did not think the case was strong enough to have a chance of eliciting the intervention of the federal attorney general. Frumhoff went on to admit that they were already pursuing a possible path via state AGs, noting “we think there’ll likely be a strong basis for encouraging state (e.g. AG) action forward, and in that context, opportunities for climate scientists to weigh in.”
That this email comes from Frumhoff is particularly interesting considering that he was one of the activists who briefed the attorneys general launching the RICO investigations just ahead of their March 29 press conference with Al Gore. After newly released emails revealed his attendance, Frumhoff admitted he was there: “I was invited to brief the attorneys general that gathered on March 29 on my work, and that is what I did.”
Frumhoff also organized and attended a now infamous 2012 workshop in La Jolla, Calif., hosted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and the Climate Accountability Institute (CAI). The meeting brought together activists in order to brainstorm the various ways they could help hasten an investigation into ExxonMobil in particular, which led to the publication of a report called, “Establishing Accountability for Climate Change Damages: Lessons from Tobacco Control.”
Frumhoff’s email isn’t the only indication that collusion between activists and AGs has been going on for a while. Here are just a few more examples:
- On January 11, 2016, the Huffington Post published an op-ed by Lyn Davis Lear, co-founder of Environmental Media Association, who notes that “In the spring of 2014, I was having lunch with one of my heroes, Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, and his head of the Environmental Protection Bureau, Lemuel Srolovic…We were also discussing the possibilities of a state Attorney General suing oil and coal companies for being implicit in causing climate change. Through a friend, I found a few, obscure studies from some major universities showing links between the two.” By the way, Lem Srolovic is one who told anti-fossil fuel lawyer Matt Pawa not to tell a Wall Street Journal reporter that he had briefed the AGs ahead of their press conference: “My ask is if you speak to the reporter,” Srolovic said, “to not confirm that you attended or otherwise discuss the event.”
- November 5, 2015, ICN admitted that the plan to have New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman spearhead investigations had been in the works for at least a year: “New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office demanded that ExxonMobil Corporation give investigators documents spanning four decades of research findings and communications about climate change, according to a person familiar with the year-long probe.” (emphasis added) That same article also admitted that activists had their sights on Schneiderman as the man to launch this plan for quite some time: “Some climate advocacy groups have long urged that Schneiderman, a second-term Democrat, investigate Exxon and other companies under the 1921 statute.”
- On September 30, 2015, an article by ICN suggests that there was already an effort underway to use the Martin Act through Schneiderman rather than RICO to achieve their goal: “Whitehouse, for one, has outlined the case for a Justice Department probe of whether Exxon violated the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. The advocacy group Climate Hawks has mounted an online petition drive to urge Attorney General Loretta Lynch to open such an investigation. Prosecution under that law, which was used against the tobacco industry in the 1990s, would require evidence of a conspiracy. Another frequently mentioned option is for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York to invoke the state’s powerful stock-fraud statute, the Martin Act, as the state has done in recent years to force other fossil fuel companies to disclose more about the financial risks they face from climate change.”
- The report that came out of the La Jolla conference in 2012 singles out the AG option this way: “State attorneys general can also subpoena documents, raising the possibility that a single sympathetic state attorney general might have substantial success in bringing key internal documents to light. In addition, lawyers at the workshop noted that even grand juries convened by a district attorney could result in significant document discovery.” (emphasis added)
#2. Activists were told by numerous experts that RICO wasn’t going to work
What’s also interesting about these emails is that that Maibach and Shukla were told on multiple occasions that the RICO law just wasn’t going to cut it. The email mentioned above from Frumhoff also notes,
“In reaching out to climate scientists to sign on, we feel that we’d need to give them some firmer grounding for believing that a federal investigation under the RICO statute is warranted – enough so that they’d be able to explain their rationale for signing to reporters and others. As you know, deception/disinformation isn’t itself a basis for criminal prosecution under RICO. We don’t think that Sen Whitehouse’s call gives enough of a basis for scientists to sign on to this as a solid approach at this point.”
Maibach responds to Frumhoff that “Shukla has been consulting with lawyers so it is possible that – with their input – we too may decide that Senator Whitehouse’s proposal is not viable.”
Seeking legal counsel, Maibach contacted a friend at Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), who told him that the odds of getting the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate under RICO were “slim to none.”
Maibach then emails Shukla, saying, “Perhaps it would be best if we first found a lawyer with RICO experience to give us an independent opinion on the basis – or lack thereof – of a RICO investigation. If there really is no basis, then I feel we would be unwise to engage other scientists in recommending a baseless action. Do you know of anyone with RICO experience?”
In another email, Mark Cane from Columbia Earth Institute writes to a group of scientists as well as a Sheldon Whitehouse staffer explaining, “I do have misgivings about invoking RICO, which may too easily lead to civil liberties abuses.”
#3. Senator Whitehouse was emailing with activists, too
There is even an email in the batch from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who has been spearheading the RICO campaign in Congress. Whitehouse states, “So we’re all clear: the tobacco case was a CIVIL RICO case, not criminal, so jailing and imprisoning have nothing to do with it. Just a forum where you can’t lie and can be cross-examined in front of a neutral judge. And the govt won fair and square and soundly, just as I believe they would here.”
#4. Activists warned: “You’re talking about prosecuting conservatives”
Maibach contacted Alex Bozmoski of RepublicEN, which describes itself as a group of conservatives concerned about climate change, about his letter as well. Bozmoski tells Maibach his draft “screams hard-core left” and warned him that he’s “talking about prosecuting conservatives.”
#5. Surprise! More Rockefeller funding
After a media firestorm ensued from the letter, Maibach contacted Jeff Nesbit of an environmental communications firm called Climate Nexus to ask for help. According to its website, Climate Nexus is “a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, a 501(c)3 organization.” In other words, the folks spearheading this letter were also getting communications support from a group that is bankrolled by the same funders (the Rockefellers) pouring millions into the organizations aggressively pushing the #ExxonKnew narrative.
The e-mail chain below shows Maibach stonewalling an interview request from Fox News and forwarding the Fox producer’s e-mail to Chris Mooney of the Washington Post (sort of a no-no in this business). To wit:
InsideClimate News has repeatedly cited its own work as the impetus that prompted Schneiderman’s probe, in addition to several other actions taken by Democratic politicians. So eager were they to take credit, they cited the actions in the cover letter attached to their Pulitzer Prize submission as justification for why they deserved to win the Prize (they didn’t). What this latest batch of emails show is that Schneiderman and activist groups were colluding to lay the groundwork for the climate RICO investigations long before the ICN and Columbia School of Journalism stories ever hit.