Paxton Intervenes in Exxon Fraud Probe, Says Lying About Science Is a Matter of Opinion

If you care about freedom of speech and freedom of thought, then according to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, yesterday was a historic, important day for you.

Yesterday, Paxton, along with Alabama's attorney general, filed to intervene in an investigation that the attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Claude Earl Walker, has launched into ExxonMobil. Joining the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts, Walker is investigating whether ExxonMobil lied to consumers and investors about the threat of climate change, contradicting its own scientific research, in order to protect its business interests; Walker has subpoenaed Exxon for more than four decades' worth of documents in order to find out.

But considering Paxton believes that man-made climate change is a matter of opinion, he is calling Walker's investigation a First Amendment violation, saying that ExxonMobil is allowed to have whatever opinion on climate change it wants. And if he doesn't do something about it, he fears that everyone's God-given right to disagree is at risk.

“Pure and simple, it's a fishing expedition of the worst kind and represents an effort to punish Exxon for daring to hold opinions about climate change that differ from that of radical environmentalists,” Paxton said in a press conference.

It sounds just like the way the rest of Paxton's conservative political party characterized climate change in its newly released 2016 platform. Here's the Texas GOP definition of climate change: “'Climate Change' is a political agenda promoted to control every aspect of our lives. We support the defunding of 'climate justice' initiatives and the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency and repeal of the Endangered Species Act.”

Never mind the fact that 97 percent of the world's scientists believe global warming is in fact occurring, according to a 2011 Yale survey.

The various investigations into ExxonMobil were prompted by two 2015 series by the Los Angeles Times and Inside Climate News (whose series was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist for public service). Both outlets dug back up to 40 years to uncover the climate change research that ExxonMobil had been doing, ranging from the effects of carbon dioxide emissions on the Arctic to the ocean's ability to quell the greenhouse gas effect. Then, it contrasted their findings with executives' dismissive statements about climate change over the ensuing years, "turning ordinary scientific uncertainties into weapons of mass confusion,” Inside Climate News wrote.

In response to arguments like Paxton's that the formal investigations into ExxonMobil mounted by various attorneys general are “First Amendment violations,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “The First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen, does not give you the right to commit fraud," according to The New York Times.

Remember, this First Amendment argument is coming from a man who has faced possible contempt of court after directing public officials to disregard the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling on marriage equality, a politician who is still facing a State Bar misconduct investigation for the same reason. Then there are the two felony securities fraud charges in a state district court and the lawsuit in federal court by the SEC, with Paxton accused in both cases of pressuring investors into pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a troubled company without disclosing that he was being compensated.

Sure, Paxton may try to make a First Amendment argument in the ExxonMobil fraud investigation, but it probably wouldn't get him far in his own fight against allegations of fraud.
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Meagan Flynn is a staff writer at the Houston Press who, despite covering criminal justice and other political squabbles in Harris County, drinks only one small cup of coffee per day.
Contact: Meagan Flynn