Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in conjunction with Alabama AG Luther Strange filed a motion to intervene Monday on the side of Irving-based ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) in a growing fight to criminalize certain public opinions held on the matter of climate change. The attorneys general hope to push back against “radical environmentalists’” recent “abuse” of subpoena powers instigated by the U.S. Virgin Islands on behalf of private parties.
“This case is about abusing the power of the subpoena to force Exxon to turn over many decades’ worth of records, so an attorney general with an agenda can pore over them in hopes of finding something incriminating,” General Paxton remarked in a press release circulated Monday. The State of Texas warns that if left unchecked, sweeping subpoenas brought by U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker and others could “set a precedent that anyone can be criminally investigated” for unfashionable viewpoints held on climate policy and beyond.
ExxonMobil initially received a subpoena by U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker in March, seeking decades-worth of internal records over concerns that the company’s public statements over the potential impacts of climate change were at odds with its alleged, more politically correct internal beliefs, according to legal records obtained by Breitbart Texas. General Walker hopes to ascertain if the oil giant violated the Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (CICO), a Virgin Islands law, and committed securities fraud. Texas and Alabama’s emergent request before the 17th Judicial District in the District Court of Tarrant County would seek to quash the matter entirely.
The entry of Texas and Alabama draws into sharper focus the matters of proper prosecutorial power and jurisdiction to a lesser extent. The motion to intervene expresses great concern over the appearance of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Justice (not to be confused with the Washington-based DOJ) taking second chair to a private D.C. law firm, Cohen Milstein. The court filing notes that although General Walker did indeed sign his own subpoena, the return address and envelope postmark lists the Washington firm. It is also not lost on the intervening States that the firm in question prides itself in being “the most effective … in the United States for lawsuits with a strong social and political component.” When not attacking climate change critics, the firm offers pro bono representation for “detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba seeking a fair hearing on their detention,” according to its website. Assuming that the high-profile firm was engaged on a contingency fee basis in conjunction with General Walker’s politically-charged public commentary that ExxonMobil is “destroying the Earth”, the States feel that they must stand for sovereign powers and impartial prosecutorial authority.
The matter of jurisdiction may also prove a hurdle for General Walker and company. Texas and Alabama note that ExxonMobil has no footprint in the form of “operations, employees, or assets” on the Islands. Walker, in an April 25 letter to ExxonMobil’s local counsel, counters that the Employees’ Retirement System of the Government of the Virgin Islands held “tens of thousands of shares” of the company for six years, hinting charges of misrepresentation to shareholders.
The battle over First Amendment protections to free speech advertised by General Paxton and ExxonMobil directly contrasts with legal environmentalists overall strategy to reuse the playbook that successfully brought tobacco companies to heel in the 1990s. In the March letter, the Virgin Islands zealously taunts ExxonMobil by reminding them that free speech does not shield fraud – leaving the government responsible to protect the people against it.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this episode is the well-funded instigators behind the growing inquisition. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that a close-knit coalition led by 350.org formed to “’to establish in public’s mind that Exxon is a corrupt institution that has pushed humanity (and all creation) toward climate chaos and grave harm’.” The activists set out to partner with state and federal prosecutors to subpoena documents to eventually “delegitimize [Exxon] as a political actor” and eventually see court orders handed down against the company. The private aspect of the effort is reportedly funded in large part by The Rockefeller Family Fund, operated by the heirs of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil – now known as ExxonMobil.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced the State’s intention to stand with ExxonMobil in opposition to “a fishing expedition of the worst kind” in Fort Worth.
Logan Churchwell is a founding member of the Breitbart Texas team. You can follow him on Twitter @LCChurchwell.