NY Post Provides Greater Insight into Rockefeller-Schneiderman #ExxonKnew Collaboration

The New York Post reports today that the Rockefellers and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman were apparently discussing the #ExxonKnew investigation several months before either the InsideClimate News (ICN) or Columbia School of Journalism #ExxonKnew pieces were published. This is quite telling given the Rockefeller’s role in funding and directing the entire #ExxonKnew campaign.

This latest revelation provides an additional piece to the puzzle regarding the collaboration between Schneiderman’s office and the organization that bankrolled both hit pieces against ExxonMobil. It also raises even more questions, especially because Schneiderman’s office is trying to use a “law enforcement” exemption to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to keep the emails between Schneiderman and the Rockefellers out of the public view.

As the New York Post revealed today:

Documents show Schneiderman’s top staffers were in correspondence with Lee Wasserman of the Rockefeller Family Fund going back to February 2015. Schneiderman launched his probe that November.

The fund has financed a campaign claiming Exxon misled investors and the public about the dangers of climate change.

Most of the 11 e-mails exchanged between Wasserman and Schneiderman’s office discussed “specific companies regarding climate change,” records show.

Of course, no one who has been following this is surprised: information about the collusion between the Rockefellers, #ExxonKnew activists, and Schneiderman’s office has trickled out slowly over the past few months as more and more documents have come to light though FOIA requests.

Timeline of Events

When Schneiderman announced his subpoena in November 2015, it was reported that the probe into Exxon had been ongoing for roughly a year at that point. That corresponds with the emails between Wasserman and Schneiderman’s office in February of that year. It was also around that time that ICN and the Columbia School of Journalism began researching their Exxon series.

In a December column published by the New York Review of Books, David Kaiser and Lee Wasserman of the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) even went so far as to admit that they worked directly with the state attorneys general who launched investigations:

“It is up to government officials, not public interest advocates, to determine whether ExxonMobil’s conduct has violated any state or federal laws within the relevant statutes of limitations. Recognizing this, the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) informed state attorneys general of our concern that ExxonMobil seemed to have failed to disclose to investors the business risks of climate change. We were particularly encouraged by Schneiderman’s interest in this matter, because New York’s Martin Act is arguably the most powerful tool in the nation for investigating possible schemes to defraud.” (emphasis added)

In a November 21 article, Kaiser told the New York Times that the Rockefellers had petitioned the government for this investigation, although he did not explicitly say at that point that it was Schneiderman who was approached.

“And we have exercised our right to petition the government for redress of grievances by informing elected officials about our concerns that in the course of its climate science campaign, Exxon may have violated the law. All of those rights are explicitly guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.” (emphasis added)

Just before that admission, David Kaiser of the Rockefeller Family Fund and Valerie Rockefeller Wayne of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) appeared on national TV  to admit that they were the ones bankrolling the entire #ExxonKnew campaign, including the “news” outlets that have repeatedly disavowed any improper influence from the Rockefellers.

Eager to keep the AGs’ attention while the reporters were writing their stories over the summer of 2015, the Rockefellers dispatched their activist allies to meet with state AGs. At a forum on Capitol Hill last June, Naomi Oreskes and Peter Frumhoff of the Rockefeller-funded Climate Accountability Institute (Frumhoff also works for the Union of Concerned Scientists) admitted to meeting and briefing the AGs as far back as the summer of 2015. The forum also revealed that the secret meetings between the activists and AGs were ongoing at that time.

Original plan was to keep all this hidden

The Rockefellers haven’t always been so forthcoming about their involvement in manufacturing the ICN and Columbia stories or about their close coordination with the AGs launching investigations into ExxonMobil.

In fact, when the Columbia stories appeared in the Los Angeles Times last year, there was no mention whatsoever that the Columbia School of Journalism environmental reporting project was funded by Rockefellers. Only after Energy In Depth and other news outlets called them out did the outlet quietly add a correction noting the funding source, but that happened several months after the stories were published.

It wasn’t just an oversight by the LA Times, either. Even the website of the Columbia Energy and Environment Reporting Fellowship did not originally disclose its Rockefeller funding according to an archived copy of the page. But once again, after they were called out, the fellowship’s website was quietly updated to include its financial connections to the Rockefeller Family Fund and other #ExxonKnew organizations.

FOIA’d emails also show that Schneiderman’s office originally didn’t want any hint of their collusion with Rockefeller-funded #ExxonKnew activists out in the open, either. On March 30, Matt Pawa – an activist who briefed the AGs ahead of the infamous March 29 press conference with Al Gore – sent an email to Lem Srolovic with the New York 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 Wall Street Journal reporter. “My ask is if you speak to the reporter,” Srolovic wrote, “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.”

All about politics

All of this comes after a federal judge issued a discovery order to Schneiderman and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to find out if they were using “bias or prejudgment” to initiate a “bad faith” investigation into ExxonMobil.

Therefore it’s no wonder that numerous law experts have called Schneiderman out for pursuing a political crusade. As Columbia Law Professor Merritt B. Fox rightly put it,

“The Martin Act grants the attorney general extraordinary powers to subpoena private documents without either obtaining a court order, which is required in most ordinary New York criminal proceedings, or the filing of a complaint, which is required in an ordinary civil action and is subject to court review. The Exxon subpoena is an abuse of these extraordinary powers.” (emphasis added)

 

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