Emails show activists colluding with AGs to squash free speech

Claude Walker at podium.

U.S. Virgin Islands’ attorney general Claude Walker has placed a bullseye squarely on the backs of conservative and libertarian-leaning groups over allegations of “racketeering” in the increasingly partisan global warming debate. Described as an all-encompassing effort, the subpoena was first issued in March and finally made public Tuesday in its unredacted form. Emails released also show how green activists conspired with government officials to squelch “contrary views”, suppress free speech, and demonize the fossil fuel industry.

The wording of the subpoena makes clear that Virgin Islands’ attorney general Claude Walker will be utilizing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) act to silence global warming skeptics and crush political opponents. Aside from serving ExxonMobil with a subpoena, Walker has also served one up to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI.)

The Walker subpoena is part of a much larger coalition of Democratic attorneys generals (AGs) targeting climate change skeptics using the RICO statute, a legal tool normally reserved for indicting members of organized crime. On March 29, New York’s AG Eric T. Schneiderman, standing alongside former Vice President Al Gore, announced that his new coalition would find “creative ways” to prosecute fossil fuel companies, individuals, and organizations who disagree with the catastrophic global warming narrative.

Gore remarked that this was an historic coalition to investigate “commercial interests that have been… deceiving the American people” about the reality of the “climate crisis and the dangers it poses to all of us.” As for Schneiderman, this is not the first time he has sought media attention over controversial issues. The NY attorney general has been hot with accusations of political bias from both the right- and left-wing punditry, wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to further his own political agenda.

The entire investigation rests on articles published last year by InsideClimate News, a climate activist organization funded by left-wing billionaires. The group alleges that Exxon knew rising carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could cause catastrophic global warming, but suppressed the information. The smoking gun was a single email in 1981 from an Exxon in-house scientist regarding the possible effects of increased CO2 emissions. Both the LA Times and NY Times propped up the allegations with direct quotes from the InsideClimate article, with middling to no fact checking.

Climate accusations have enjoyed a strangely muddled history. In 1981, numerous news outlets were championing the great global cooling scare that never materialized as illustrated in the recent documentary Climate Hustle. In 1988, with a ceremonial kick-off by then-NASA employee James Hansen, the idea of a coming ice age morphed into the great global warming scare caused by the burning of fossil fuels. To its credit, Exxon has denied any wrongdoing and has supplied information to news outlets showing where InsideClimate News’ ostensible ‘investigation’ went off the rails.

The original redacted subpoena from Walker was first reported by the Wall Street Journal in April, and a newly released copy of the subpoena shows for the first time whom Walker is targeting. The subpoena asks for all communications that the oil company has undertaken with “88 conservative and libertarian think tanks, foundations, and universities, and 54 individual researchers, scientists, and writers.” Walker even subpoenaed the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative think tank.

CEI’s General Counsel Sam Kazman responded on the its website, writing: “The attack on First Amendment rights by U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Walker, Al Gore, and a coalition of attorneys general, is clearly political targeting aimed at stifling free speech and intimidating policy groups and private individuals who disagree with them.”

As indicated in the broadly sculpted subpoena—a lawsuit in search of a crime—AG Walker “effectively asks for all CEI communications on climate change and energy policy from 1997 through 2007, including private donor information.” CEI says it will vigorously fight the unabashed attempts of the politically motivated AG who is targeting “anyone who holds different opinions than these government officials, whether that is on climate change or any other issue.”

Andrew M. Grossman, the outside attorney handling the case for CEI, responded to the charges, by writing: “Your demand on CEI is offensive, it is un-American, it is unlawful, and it will not stand. You can either withdraw it or expect to fight.” Most analysts familiar with the issue say that Walker will encounter similar resistance from the other groups and individuals.

Hans von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commissioner and a senior legal fellow at Heritage, called the subpoena “a truly outrageous abuse of [the attorney general’s] authority and a misuse of the law. This investigation is intended to silence and chill any opposition,” von Spakovsky wrote. “It is disgraceful and contemptible behavior by public officials who are willing to exploit their power to achieve ideological ends.”

Colluding with activists

The Washington Free Beacon writes how emails show that after “consulting and cooperating with leading environmental advocacy groups,” it was determined that the RICO statute could be used as a weapon. Participants gathered at a Jan. 8 meeting at the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF) headquarters, a left-wing foundation that funnels money into pet projects and reformist politicians, before engaging in the current subpoena effort.

At the meeting, “RFF, Greenpeace, other environmental groups discussed ways to delegitimize [ExxonMobil] as a political actor, force officials to disassociate themselves from Exxon, and drive divestment from Exxon,” according to a copy of the meeting agenda obtained by The Washington Free Beacon last month.

Big Green activists even discussed the use of “like-minded attorneys generals to use their powers to go after the oil company” and to “drive Exxon & climate into center of 2016 election.” Emails obtained by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute in April showed how Schneiderman and other politically aligned AGs “secretly teamed up with anti-fossil fuel activists” to target organizations whose “political speech challenged the global warming policy agenda.”

The emails also showed that “staffers at groups involved in the effort then briefed aides to those [Democratic] AGs.” In one email, they discuss using “climate change litigation” to further their own political agendas and punish political opponents. More damning, Walker expressed in an email his desire to identify “other potential litigation targets.”

“These emails strongly suggest the financial motive for AGs to pursue their political opponents, not content with merely silencing and scaring away support for those who dare disagree with their extreme global warming agenda,” said Craig Richardson, E&E Legal’s Executive Director. “Alarmingly, government officials are actively trying to cover up their coordination by using a Common Interest Agreement, even to claw back records already circulated, which another attorney general properly objected to as violating state law.”

A copy of the agenda from that meeting states that two of the common goals of these activists are to “establish in public’s mind [sic] that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm” and to “delegitimize them as a political actor.” They even discuss their overall strategy of targeting “industry associations, scientists and front groups” and at the top of their list for “legal actions and related campaigns” was state “AGs.” That last goal came to fruition at the March 29 press conference.

Under the guise of hiding their collusion, the AGs and their staff concealed this discussion and coordination with the green activists, and “sought to protect as privileged the discussions about defending President Obama’s controversial global warming rules, and going after political opponents using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.”

ExxonMobil has struck back with a lawsuit in state court in Tarrant County, Texas (where it has its principal office). In it, they ask for a “declaratory judgment” against Walker and the plaintiff’s law firm, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, to whom “Walker has delegated his prosecutorial authority.” In the lawsuit, they say the investigation and subpoena violate “constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process of law and constitute the common law tort of abuse of process.”

On the Inside Shale Weekly radio show, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey slammed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s “investigation” into ExxonMobil’s climate research, calling it “deeply disappoint[ing],” and stating that “You cannot use the power of the office of the Attorney General to silence your critics.” And Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt put out a press release vowing, “I want to assure you that the State of Kansas is not participating in the Gore group’s initiative, which one reporter at the New York news conference likened to a ‘publicity stunt.'”

It’s still unclear if Democratic AGs from New Mexico, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Maine, Illinois, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, and Vermont—who stood on stage next to Gore and Schneiderman—will launch their own investigations. Regardless, the initiation of such a politically motivated effort demonstrates a troubling disregard for longstanding freedom of speech rights and due process.

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