Schneiderman Continues Media Strategy in Court Hearing with Meaningless “Bombshell” Claim
by Katie Brown, PhD
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office attempted once again to manufacture an email controversy, proclaiming in a letter that Exxon had refused “to comply in good faith with OAG’s investigative subpoena dated November 4, 2015,” and characterizing it as a “bombshell” in a court hearing held today.
Meanwhile, here’s the real bombshell: the Daily Caller has just reported that legal discoveries show Lem Srolovic, the Assistant Attorney General in Schneiderman’s office, used a personal Gmail address to converse with activist organizations in 2012. This news comes just after Schneiderman’s office tried to make a big deal about an alternate email for former Exxon president and CEO Rex Tillerson (which was a company-issued account, not a Gmail address, by the way) that was used to speed up communications with company leadership. Also let’s not forget that Srolovic was the guy who told #ExxonKnew activist Matt Pawa not to tell a reporter that he secretly briefed the AGs ahead of their now infamous March 29th press conference with Al Gore.
It’s worth noting that Schneiderman’s office will appear in court next week to answer for his refusal 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, which date back to before the original #ExxonKnew hit pieces by the Rockefeller-funded InsideClimate News and Columbia School of Journalism were published.
In court today, the judge made it very clear that a letter written on behalf of Exxon addressed many of Schneiderman’s accusations, and he even highlighted a “rule of proportionality” regarding the AG’s continued effort to gather more materials from Exxon – despite the thousands of documents already provided. ExxonMobil pointed out that the “rule of this Court” is that Schneiderman must consult with Exxon prior to taking the matter to court – of course, in his pursuit of headlines, Schneiderman failed to do this. From the letter on behalf of ExxonMobil:
“The Attorney General’s fears of a widespread loss of data at ExxonMobil are entirely unfounded, and ExxonMobil is already taking steps to provide the Attorney General with the relief he seeks in his letter. Other than providing further evidence of his penchant for hyperbole and sensationalism in his ever-shifting investigation, the Attorney General’s letter serves principally to highlight why consultation between the parties prior to seeking Court intervention is not just a rule of this Court, but also a prudent approach to routine discovery disputes like this one […] The Attorney General should have complied with this Court’s rules and made a bona fide effort to pursue consultation before returning once again to court.” (emphasis added)
Schneiderman’s office attempted to justify this by saying that it had emailed Exxon its request for more documents and “Receiv[ed] no timely response…” But Schneiderman’s office fails to mention it emailed Exxon only mere hours before it went to court and to the press. That’s a pretty strange interpretation of “timely.”
Today’s hearing also puts the spotlight on how this entire dispute hinges on the fact that Schneiderman has changed the reason for his investigation no less than three times, after he realized that that his previous justification – namely #ExxonKnew – was not working out for him. Because of this, Exxon notes that Schneiderman originally said not to prioritize emails from senior management, or the “Management Committee Custodians,” as his priority was documents from thirty years ago when he was investigating what Exxon “knew.” Again, from the letter:
“The Attorney General faults ExxonMobil for not making a substantial production of documents from the Management Committee Custodians until the end of 2016 […] the Attorney General repeatedly instructed ExxonMobil to place the production of other custodians ahead of the Management Committee Custodians. In accordance with the Attorney General’s priorities and initial investigative thesis, ExxonMobil first produced over 109,000 documents from four custodians who studied climate science […] ” When these documents evidently refuted his investigative theory, the Attorney General informed ExxonMobil that his new “priority” was documents from certain enumerated custodians who contributed to the preparation of a 2014 report entitled “Energy and Carbon – Managing the Risks,” and those on ExxonMobil’s greenhouse gas issue management team. (Email from M. Wagner to P. Conlon, dated Feb. 3, 2016.) In those instructions, the Attorney General expressly stated that review of the custodial files of senior managers, such as Mr. Tillerson, was a secondary priority.” (emphasis added)
As the letter further explains,
“The documents of the Management Committee Custodians became a priority for the Attorney General only after this Court rebuffed his efforts to obtain documents outside the scope of the subpoena, during a November 21, 2016 court appearance.” (emphasis added)
All of this boils down to the fact that it’s been nearly one year since Schneiderman hosted his March 29th press conference with Al Gore where the Democratic AGs touted their investigations of ExxonMobil. They have nothing to show for it – but if one thing has become clear throughout this process, they’ve certainly got a lot to hide.