Over the past several weeks, the well-funded, highly orchestrated #ExxonKnew campaign has continued to be exposed for what it is, with several major news outlets now reporting on closed-door meetings that took place between activists, wealthy foundations, law firms and media websites in an effort to attack Exxon. Newly revealed emails even show these activists held secret talks with the state attorneys general long before articles written by InsideClimate News and the Columbia School of Journalism were published – directly contradicting claims made by the attorney general of New York and others that those articles were the impetus behind their actions.
This week, the activists have reverted to full damage-control mode, claiming their secret campaign was never really secret at all. This week, they made their case to the New York Times, telling the paper they have been transparent the whole time about what they wanted to do and whom they’d be working with from the very beginning. “There’s nothing hidden here,” Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said to The Times.
Allow us to put forth the following points in polite disagreement with that statement:
- State Attorneys General Drafted ‘Agreement’ to Keep Strategy Meeting with Activists Secret: In April, Reuters reported on new emails acquired through the FOIA process, which revealed that Peter Frumhoff and lawyer Matt Pawa had secretly briefed the attorneys general ahead of their March 29 press conference announcing investigations into ExxonMobil. In an email to Lem Srolovic with the New York Attorney General’s office, Vermont Assistant Attorney General Scott Kline expressed concerns about sharing documents related to the meeting, as they could be discoverable to the public via a records requests. Kline said “our office is okay with refusing to disclose covered documents.” The New York Attorney General’s office then requested a “Common Interest Agreement” be signed to avoid having the public find out about their meetings.
- NY Attorney General’s Office Told Activist to Lie to WSJ about Attending the Meeting: Those same emails also reveal that the New York Attorney General’s office specifically told activists not to reveal that they had attended this meeting with the attorneys general group. On March 30, Pawa sent an email to Srolovic with the New York Attorney General’s office, as well as 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.”
- #ExxonKnew Coalition Had Closed-Door Meeting with Rockefellers: The Wall Street Journal reported in April on a leaked memo revealing that a coalition of activists gathered for a secret, closed-door meeting at the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) offices on January 8 of this year. According to the memo, the coalition’s goals were to “delegitimize [ExxonMobil] as a political actor” and focus on establishing “in the public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution.”
- Activists Were Colluding with AGs Long before #ExxonKnew Stories Hit: Activists have long been claiming that the “investigative reporting” by InsideClimate Newsand the Columbia School of Journalism was what spurred the AGs into action. But newly released emails from Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS) show that activists were already pursuing investigations via state AGs long before those stories hit. As Frumhoff put it in a July 21, 2015 email, “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.” After emails revealed that Frumhoff was one of the activists who briefed the AGs ahead of their March 29 press conference with Al Gore, he was forced to admit his attendance: “I was invited to brief the attorneys general that gathered on March 29 on my work, and that is what I did.”
- #RICO20 Emails Show Activists Switched to Personal Email to Avoid Disclosure: George Mason University (GMU) professors Jagadish Shukla and Edward Maibach, who spearheaded a letter asking U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and President Obama to launch a RICO investigation into ExxonMobil, tried to hide their collusion with activist groups. After they received a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, Maibach emailed his fellow letter signers asking for their private email addresses for further correspondence.
- LA Times Failed to Disclose Columbia School of Journalism’s Rockefeller Funding: The Los Angeles Times ran the two-part story on Exxon’s climate research, written by students at the Columbia School of Journalism. But the A. Times did not initially disclose that that Columbia School of Journalism is funded by the anti-fossil fuel Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF). After Energy In Depth and other news outlets called the newspaperout on that point, the outlet quietly added a correction noting the funding source, albeit several months later.
- Columbia School of Journalism Failed to Disclose Rockefeller Funding on Website: The website of the Columbia Energy and Environment Reporting Fellowship, which produced those stories for the A. Times, did not originally disclose its Rockefeller funding, according to an archived copy of the pageobtained by the Daily Caller. Once again, after the funding from anti-fossil fuel organizations was revealed, the fellowship’s website was quietly updated to include its financial connections to the RBF and other organizations.
- Activists’ Claim that #ExxonKnew Stories Spurred New York AG Action Revealed to be Bogus: At the March 29 press conference, former Vice President Al Gore claimed that the stories by InsideClimate News and Columbia School of Journalism were what spurred the AGs’ investigations. This is simply not the case: Even InsideClimate News has acknowledged Schneiderman was already moving against the company in 2014, long before those stories were published.
- Friends of the Earth Secretly Met with Maryland AG Ahead of Al Gore Press Conference: A Politico public records request recently discovered that Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica secretly held a meeting with Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh in February, mere days before Frosh announced he was considering an investigation into Exxon. Pica has confirmed that the purpose of the meeting was focused on ExxonMobil’s participation in “the climate fight.”
- Activists Secretly Colluded with Senator Whitehouse, Too: One batch of emails also reveals that Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), who has been spearheading the #ExxonKnew effort from Congress, was emailing and coordinating directly with the #RICO20 activists before they urged the U.S. Department of Justice to get involved.
Ironically, the documents that activists claim were “kept secret” by ExxonMobil have been publicly available at libraries and through peer-reviewed research that is posted online. If anyone has gone to great lengths to avoid transparency in this case, it’s the activists, lawyers, foundations and state attorneys general who have been working together for years on a plan to target and attack the nation’s largest energy producer.
At any rate, this week’s piece in The New York Times should finally put to rest any remaining suggestion that the decision to investigate on the part of the state attorneys general had anything to do with articles produced by InsideClimate News or the Columbia School of Journalism. What these articles confirm, and others corroborate, is that the decision to target Exxon was made months, even years, before – and it certainly wasn’t made on the basis of anything having to do with the law or the facts governing the case.