- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 6, 2016

A Democrat-led coalition of attorneys general has entered into a confidentiality agreement to avoid disclosing public records related to their investigation into climate dissent, according to a document released Wednesday.

The letter from an assistant for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she cannot comply with an open-records request on the coordinated climate-change probe because doing so would violate a Common Interest Agreement signed by the office “and other affected stakeholders.”

The June 17 letter was obtained through a disclosure request filed by the Energy & Environment Legal Institute, which accused the attorneys general of trying to “write themselves out of transparency laws to hide [the] abusive campaign.”

“We have confirmed that the Democratic AGs are citing a Common Interest Agreement to avoid releasing crucial information to the public, as they continue their abuse of power,” said David W. Schnare, E&E legal general counsel, in a Wednesday statement.

A cache of emails released previously by E&E included the draft of a Common Interest Agreement aimed at using the privilege to protect the communications of the attorneys general, but it was unclear whether anyone had signed it.

“The earlier draft we obtained showed the desire to exempt AGs’ correspondence, which are deemed public records by their legislatures, from open records laws if they related not just to defense of the Obama administration’s EPA rules, but to investigations and nearly anything else they might not want released involving ‘fossil fuels,’ ‘renewable energy,’ or ‘climate,’” Mr. Schnare said. “It appears these terms survived in a new agreement.”

In her letter, Illinois Assistant Attorney General Caitlin Q. Knutte told another state employee that she could not honor parts of the E&E open-records request for several reasons, including the Common Interest Agreement.

“In this regard, I would note that a common interest agreement was entered into by the Office of the Illinois Attorney General and the other affected stakeholders related to a number of the withheld records,” Ms. Knutte told state Public Access Bureau assistant chief Steve Silverman.

“Under the terms of that Agreement, particular categories of documents are to remain confidential,” she said.

She also said the disclosure of the requested records would “interfere with this office’s ability to cooperate with other government agencies regarding this and future investigations and reasonably contemplated law enforcement proceedings.”

Ms. Madigan belongs to a coordinated campaign of attorneys general, known as AGs United for Clean Power, pursuing fossil-fuel companies and supporters of fossil fuels on whether they misled the public by challenging the extent and causes of climate change.

At least three attorneys general have issued subpoenas related to their investigations, although Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker recently withdrew his subpoenas of both ExxonMobil and the free-market Competitive Enterprise Institute.

While such agreements are relatively common, “what the AGs and green groups have attempted is not; nor is keeping the pact itself from the public normal,” said E&E in its statement.

“To be legitimate, parties to a common interest agreement must have imminent litigation, a clear scope and clearly shared interests,” said the statement. “Instead, documents obtained to date show that these AGs and their green-group colleagues with inherently disparate interests have entered not a legitimate CIA, but a pact of secrecy, covering broad topics, not specific matters, simply to avoid scrutiny of otherwise public records relating to their extraordinarily controversial abuse of political opponents’ First Amendment rights.”

The investigation by 17 attorneys general — 16 Democrats and one Independent, Mr. Walker — has been denounced as an abuse of prosecutorial power aimed at silencing their ideological foes.

Thirteen Republican attorneys general have urged the Democrats to cease their investigation, arguing that it could set a precedent for investigating those who exaggerate the implications of global warming.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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