ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson should “come clean” about whether the energy giant misled the public about climate change, now that President-elect Donald J. Trump has chosen him to be the nation’s top diplomat, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said Tuesday.
Healey spoke to the Globe hours after Trump announced the selection of Tillerson to be the next secretary of state.
The Bay State Democrat is locked in a court battle with ExxonMobil, which has used aggressive legal tactics in an effort to thwart subpoenas from Healey and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for company documents on climate change dating back to the 1970s.
“Now that he’s been nominated by the president-elect, he should absolutely answer the questions that we’ve been asking for months now,” Healey said. “And this is the opportunity to come clean and produce information from the documents.”
Healey demurred when asked Tuesday if she felt Tillerson could be an effective secretary of state, in light of questions over his business ties to Russia. His nomination is subject to Senate confirmation.
“I’ll leave that to others to evaluate,” Healey said. “There are a lot of things that I’m sure will be the subject of extensive inquiry and vetting.”
She said of ExxonMobil’s legal strategy in the climate case, “The First Amendment doesn’t protect the right to lie and doesn’t protect companies from lying. [ExxonMobil’s lawsuit] is really corporate bullying at its best, and I think that with Mr. Tillerson’s nomination, Exxon has some really serious questions to answer.”
The Trump transition team did not respond to an e-mail inquiry seeking comment on Healey’s remarks, and an ExxonMobil spokesman declined to comment.
Asked if she felt Tillerson’s nomination was appropriate given her office’s pending probe, Healey cited Trump’s earlier selection of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.
Pruitt has questioned the science behind climate change and previously sued the EPA.
“I think it reflects the president-elect’s priorities, between the nomination of a big-oil CEO [for secretary of state] and Scott Pruitt to head the EPA, whose career has been about trying to dismantle the EPA, ” Healey said.
She continued, “I’m just concerned that Exxon is a company that seems to think it doesn’t play by the same rules as everyone else. Mr. Tillerson has spent his entire career at Exxon, and my experience in [seeking responses] to inquiries from our office has been distressing. I think it reflects on the company, and it reflects certainly on its leadership.”
Healey announced last spring that she and other officials were pursuing a fraud investigation against ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company. She and Schneiderman later issued subpoenas for climate change documents in an effort to learn whether the company had misled consumers about the dangers of its own product.
ExxonMobil struck back in June, filing a lawsuit against Healey in Texas, accusing her of violating the company’s rights under the First, Fourth, and 14th Amendments to the Constitution and “abusing the power of government to silence a speaker she disfavors.”
The company alleged that Healey had judged the company guilty before even conducting an investigation, which she denies, and demanded that she testify about her efforts and provide documents from her office.
United States District Court Judge Ed Kinkeade initially sided with ExxonMobil in November, ordering Healey to appear in Dallas for a deposition. But he canceled his order on Monday and instructed both sides to submit briefs by Jan. 4 on whether Texas has jurisdiction over the matter.
The legal fight is also pending in state court in Massachusetts.
Stephanie Ebbert and Jim O’Sullivan of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.