Court-ordered documents from Exxon Mobil are proving that secret identities — or at least secret email identities — aren’t only for comic book superheroes.
For at least seven years during his time as Exxon's chairman and CEO, Rex Tillerson, who is now Secretary of State for the Trump administration, used the pseudonym 'Wayne Tracker' to discuss climate change issues with senior company officials. Wayne is Tillerson's middle name.
Internal documents produced by the Texas-based oil giant reveal that between 2008 and 2015, Tillerson used 'Wayne.Tracker@exxonmobil.com,' to send and receive materials regarding important business matters, including high-risk management issues pertaining to climate change.
The revelations are the result of an investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who issued a subpoena to Exxon in November 2015 to uncover whether the company misled the public and its shareholders about climate change for decades. The action has since forced Exxon to produce at least one million documents, roughly 60 of which contained the Wayne Tracker email address.
According to Schneiderman, the company is still withholding vital documents related to senior management, including from 34 email accounts assigned to top executives, board members and their assistants.
"... Neither Exxon nor its counsel have ever disclosed that this separate email account was a vehicle for Mr. Tillerson’s relevant communications at Exxon, and no documents appear to have been collected from this email account, which also does not appear on Exxon’s list of preserved custodial sources or its privilege log," reads a Monday letter from the Attorney General Office's (OAG) legal team to Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager.
"Exxon has continuously delayed and obstructed the production of documents from its top executives and board members, which are crucial to OAG’s investigation into Exxon’s touted risk management practices regarding climate change."
In an emailed statement to National Observer, Exxon Mobil denied these claims. The company said it has co-operated with the subpoena, and that the existence of the Wayne Tracker email account, and its connection to Tillerson, has been known to the attorney general for more than a year.
Read the full letter from the OAG here:
Exxon criticizes OAG's professionalism
According to Exxon media relations manager Alan Jeffers, the company handed over emails from the Wayne Tracker address to Schneiderman's office as early as February 2016.
The alias address was created, Jeffers explained, to make priority communications more efficient, since Tillerson's main email address received thousands of emails from both internal and external sources, including spam campaigns from activists. It saved Tillerson from having to sift through large volumes of emails, he said, when writing about important business matters — including climate change — to select senior Exxon officials.
"The emails themselves frequently disclose Tillerson’s name or initials in connection with the Tracker email account," said Jeffers on Tuesday. "ExxonMobil has been responsive to the attorney general’s subpoena and has provided more than 2.5 million pages of documents."
Exxon first learned of the OAG's concerns about the alias email address through the Monday letter to the U.S. Supreme Court justice, he added, which violates a "meet and confer" order from the courts.
The letter accuses Exxon of failing to "comply in good faith" to its subpoena, as it investigates potential violations of New York consumer, business, and investor-fraud laws. It also asks the court to schedule a conference to ensure that Exxon complies with the subpoena, and says Tillerson's email pseudonym "lends additional urgency" to this request.
Jeffers said the letter has a clearly "political and improper purpose."
"The New York Attorney General’s Office expressed its concern in a sensationalist way designed to prejudice public and to garner press attention," he told National Observer. "If they wanted to address a real concern, they would have handled their questions over document production differently and professionally."
Jeffers said Exxon takes climate change very seriously, and is actively working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout its operations, and support research and dialogue on climate solutions at the policy level.
Attorney General takes on Trump
Schneiderman's investigation into Exxon Mobil was borne of an unprecedented settlement in November 2015 with Peabody Coal, the world's largest private sector coal company. After several years of investigation, the OAG found that Peabody had violated New York securities laws by making false and misleading statements to shareholders, regulators, and the public about the financial risks it faced from global action on climate change.
In November 2015, Peabody agreed to correct its misstatements and make more robust public disclosures about these financial risks, and other legal and economic issues that could reduce the demand for coal. Shortly afterwards, based on the same legal theory, the OAG launched its investigation into Exxon.
News of Tillerson's alternate email address comes only three months after Schneiderman vowed in a tweet to "stand-up and fight" U.S. President Donald Trump and his appointees:
Since Trump took office in January, the attorney general has joined a lawsuit against the president's latest version of a travel ban affecting citizens of six-Muslim majority countries, accused Trump of creating "cchaos" in the federal government by abruptly removing more than 40 attorney generals, and pledged to fight steep proposed federal cuts to environmental protection.
In an email to National Observer, the U.S. State Department declined to comment on this story.