If the 2016 US election taught us anything, we now know that proper handling of email is the most important thing in the world. Recently, it came to light that while Rex Tillerson was CEO of ExxonMobil, he used an email account with an alias for his communications. Following a court order to turn over those documents, Exxon's lawyers say that they have misplaced them.
Exxon Mobile was ordered to turn over 40 years of documents on Wednesday showing the company's views on and knowledge of climate change. The ruling was made by a Massachusetts judge in an investigation led by the state's attorney general Maura Healy, who is working to determine how much the company knew about the link between fossil fuels and climate change, and also to determine whether Exxon intentionally hid or suppressed information from the public and investors.
When Trump picked Tillerson to be his Secretary of State, many people were surprised. The two don't seem to have a lot in common. Tillerson hates publicity, sort of acknowledges the existence of climate change, and actually ran a legitimately successful business. But as time has gone on, similarities between the two have been revealed. The secretary is really good friends with Vladimir Putin, for instance. And then we found out that Tillerson also likes using a pseudonym. In Trump's case, he called reporters pretending to be John Barron in order to plant stories about how great he is. In Tillerson's case, he had a corporate email account under the name "Wayne Tracker". According to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the account was used to communicate with senior company officials about the risks posed by climate change.
Schneiderman is currently leading an investigation into accusations that Exxon misled investors about what it knew regarding fossil fuels impact on climate change. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy has also opened an investigation into the matter. The case was initially spurred by reporting from InsideClimate News that landed the publication on the finalist list for the Pulitzer prize. Schneiderman has been aggressive in his accusations about the company and he has taken the company to task for not disclosing the existence of the pseudonymous account:
Despite the company's incidental production of approximately 60 documents bearing the 'Wayne Tracker' email address, 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.
In a New York courtroom today, lawyers for the state told a judge that as much as a full year's worth of emails from the account are missing. Bloomberg reports:
John Oleske, a senior enforcement lawyer for New York, cited the missing emails at a hearing in Manhattan Wednesday to bolster his claim that Exxon is failing to comply with a subpoena in the case despite turning over more than 2 million pages of documents. In court, Oleske described Exxon's admission of missing emails as a "bombshell."
"Exxon concedes that it failed to preserve all documents from an alias email account used by Rex Tillerson," Oleske said in a court filing before the hearing. "Exxon's conduct outside this court reflects a pattern of stonewalling and disingenuousness."
Exxon's lawyers are disputing how many emails are missing. They claim that up to nine months of emails may have been recovered from other accounts. Of course, it would only take one particularly damning email to harm the oil giant's case.
The company claims that it was using the Microsoft Exchange system to handle the archiving of documents that were placed under a "litigation hold". Apparently, the "standard configurations" on the software were "configured improperly" and Exxon is investigating, ya know, how this dang software screwed it all up.
It's worth noting that in attempting to explain why these emails "will not be significant" to the case, they admit that the account was searched for relevant information. So, the company recognised that since this email account belonged to the CEO it was part of the investigation. But no one properly added it to the archiving system.
Both parties are due to appear in court again by March 31, and they agreed to discuss possible ways to recover the missing communications. The judge ordered Exxon to produce sworn statements and documents from employees who were in charge of preserving the emails.