As a result of a recent FOIA request and legal case by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a number of emails relating to the notorious RICO letter incident that took place last September have been made public.
The email chain reveals that those responsible for generating the letter were even more stupid than previously thought.
William Connolley, notorious climate activist and Wikipedia gatekeeper, has a blog post The RICO 20: lessons in stupidity in which he says “it is all really very silly indeed, in so many ways, by so many people. Firstly, what were Shukla, Maibach and all the others thinking … So why is [Maibach] acting like some naive child in the woods?”
Edward Maibach, Director, Center for Climate Change Communication, George Mason University (GMU).
His research currently focuses exclusively on how to mobilize populations to adopt behaviors and support public policies that reducegreenhouse gas emissions and help communities adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change.
BA, Social psychology.
Also described (presumably, by himself) as
a communication scientist who is expert in the uses of strategic communication and social marketing to address climate change and related public health challenges.
(A claim that is called into question by this incident).
Here are some key excerpts from the emails, presented in chronological order, which may be useful since they are rather jumbled up in the raw files, with a few comments from me in square brackets.
Act 1: Preparing the letter
July 20 2015, Shukla writes to Maibach:
Are you, like me, puzzled as to why in spite of such overwhelming scientific evidence … a significant fraction of the US society remains skeptical?…
[Well if you are, you could try asking them about it, or read my paper on the subject. Or just have a think about what your own actions have done for the image of climate science.]
According to Senator Whitehouse, the fossil-fuel industry has launched a massive and sophisticated campaign to mislead the American people about the science of global warming…
[Really? Where are the billboards, TV ads and sophisticated websites behind this massive campaign?]
I am writing to you to ask if you are able and willing to join me in sending a letter of support to Senator Whitehouse.
July 21, Maibach replies:
I would be happy to do so, but our letter might have more impact if we targeted our Senators and members of Congress, and cc’ed Whitehouse…
July 21, Shukla to Maibach:
…I have decided to get fully engaged in this process, not just the climate change issues but even the larger issues of inequality and social justice.
July 22, Maibach to Shukla:
I had breakfast with David Michaels today… an expert in the case against the tobacco industry.
He feels the odds of the DOI pursuing this case against industry are slim to none…
That said, I have no objection to our sending a letter to the President…
If we do this, we should choose our words carefully, because they could wind up on page 1 of the Washington Post.
[Well Ed, here you are in the Washington Times!]
July 24, Shukla to Maibach:
I will contact about 100 climate scientists that I personally know…
You are of course a great communicator…
July 25, Maibach to Shukla:
I will draft a letter this weekend.
My inclination is to write a group letter. We can encourage other climate scientists… to co-sign the letter… The letter will get lots of media attention.
[Well, that was one thing you got right!]
July 25, Shukla to Maibach:
Fantastic Ed. Please ask whoever you consider appropriate. Just cc me. I am also contacting some attorneys.
I am so excited to move forward.
BTW, my student assitant Colin Nackerman who has worked with your group is available to help us. He is a dedicated activist.
July 25, Maibach to Shukla:
Here is my draft. I will await your reply before contacting UCS and EDF.
July 27, Shukla to Maibach:
This is a great letter…
After I go to GMU today, I will make some minor revisions to your letter and share it with GMU scientists.
Please go ahead and contact UCS and EDF.
July 27, Shukla to Maibach:
Please find attached the revised letter with minor edits as per your suggestion…
[So this clarifies that the RICO letter was essentially written by Maibach, with minor edits from Shukla and (see below) Mark Cane.]
July 27, Maibach to Nancy Cole, Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS, devoted climate activists):
Jagadish Shukla and I are planning on sending a letter to POTUS and AG (with a cc to our members of congress) to encourage them to act on Senator Whitehouse’s proposal…
With a bit of extra work – and this is why I am writing to you – perhaps we could get at least one climate scientist from all 435 congressional districts to co-sign the letter…
Can UCS help us with this?
July 27, Nancy Cole to Maibach:
Ed, great to hear from you, and thanks for sharing this intriguing idea….
Let me discuss with a couple of colleagues here and get back to you shortly.
[You’d think a communications “expert” might be able to read between the lines and pick up the doubts here.]
July 29, Alex Bozmoski (conservative, supporter of climate action) responds to Maibach’s request for advice:
…it’s just an impossible topic not to scream hard-core left. You’re talking about prosecuting conservatives… Sorry not to be sunnier
July 31, Peter Frumhoff, UCS, responds to Maibach:
… we’ve decided to not pursue this opportunity with you. Here’s why: In reaching out to climate scientists to sign on, we feel that we’d need to give them some firmer grounding for believing that a federal investigation under RICO is warranted – enough so that they’d be able to explain their rationale for signing on to reporters and others. As you know, deception/disinformation isn’t itself a basis for criminal prosecution under RICO.
So, I am sorry to decline this particular opportunity.
July 31, Maibach to Frumhoff
Shukla has been consulting with lawyers so it is possible that – with their input – we too may decide that senator Whitehouse’s proposal is not viable.
I am confident that a concerted “truth” campaign can generate public indignation over the deceptions sponsored by the fossil fuel industry
[Ah, the pompous Pecksniffian self-righteousness…]
July 31, Maibach to Shukla, seems to be having doubts after getting these two negative responses:
Perhaps it would be best if we first found a lawyer with RICO experience to give us an independent opinion on the basis – or lack thereof – of a RICO investigation…
Sept 3, Mark Cane (one of the signers) to Shukla and other signers:
You have my endorsement of this letter and any other version involving further wordsmithing… I have attached an edited version…
Sept 14, Shukla to Holdren:
Please find enclosed a a letter to the President…
The letter also supports Senator Whitehouse’s proposal that the Department of Justice begin a RICO investigation of the fossil-fuel industry…
It’s not clear why they went ahead with it despite the negative feedback.
The RICO letter itself is dated Sept 1, though not sent until Sept 14, addressed to
Dear President Obama, Attorney General Lynch, and OSTP Director Holdren.
It is discussed at Judith Curry’s blog on 17 Sept and the full text can be read there.
It “strongly endorses” Senator Whitehouse’s call for a RICO investigation of “corporations and other organizations that have knowingly deceived the American people about the risks of climate change”.
The letter says “as climate scientists we…” and is signed by 20 people, including Maibach, who is not, by any definiton, a climate scientist.
Act 2 Response to the letter
Sept 18, Jeff Hagen to Maibach:
How does an individual possessing a BA in social psychology… become a scientist? … maybe I could be included in the Most Wanted List from ersatz scientists whining to a community organizer…
Sept 19, Michael Egnor (Prof of Neurological Surgery) to Maibach:
Your letter is a demand for fascism, pure and simple. By advocating criminal prosecution and imprisonment of your scientific critics, you have violated basic pribciples of scientific ethics…
I am a global warming skeptic and I insist that any criminal prosecution of skeptics include me as well.
You are a disgrace to the scientific profession.
Sept 19, Neil Wolfe to Maibach et al
… I cannot tell you how offensive I find it that one group of scientists would attempt to use antiracketeering laws to silence other scientists who disagree with your assertions…
Are you so naive and consumed with your ’cause’ that you fail to see the slippery slope this could send us down?
[There’s also another letter, author not clear, sent to the president of the University of Washington.]
Sept 19, Maibach to Bob Inglis and Alex Boznoski:
Subject: op-ed + a needlessly self-inflicted headache
… I somewhat foolishly signed on to the attached letter that – thanks to Marc Morano – has caused quite a stir…
[Maibach is being economical with the truth here – he didn’t just sign the letter, he wrote it!]
I expect the kerfuffle … will die down soon
[Another error of judgement.]
Sept 19, Barry Klinger (co-signer) to other signers:
Never happy about other people mischaracterizing my position, I put together a little postscript to the RICO letter
Sept 20, Mark Cane (co-signer) to other signers:
Thanks Barry. This is very well done. I do have misgivings about invoking RICO, which may too easily lead to civil liberty abuses.
[Huh? But you signed a letter to POTUS calling for RICO!]
At the same time, all this outrage from climate doubters would seem legitimate if they had expressed similar outrage when Mike Mann and others were being harrassed.
[Huh again. They did, see McIntyre link above.]
Sept 22, Shukla to signers of letter:
The response is far more vicious than I had ever thought…
Sept 24, Maibach to Chris Mooney, activist journalist:
[Fox news want to speak to Shukla, but Maibach arranges a sympathetic news story instead.]
Shukla will not be speaking with Fox, but he would like to speak to a credible reporter… Shukla is honest and honorable, and a dedicated servant to humanity.
[Really, I’m not making this shit up.]
Sept 26, Maibach to Jeff Nesbit, journalist:
The situation with the RICO letter continues to escalate rapidly
[But hang on, you said it would die down soon?]
GA Tech climatologist Peter Webster .. sent Shukla several emails asking Shukla to retract the letter.
Shukla wants to retract the letter… I advised him that retraction is unlikely to make the pain go away for the signers,…
[Is Shukla still taking advice from this fool?]
Act 3, The FOIA requests
Sept 24, Chris Horner (CEI) to Elizabeth Woodley (GMU FOI officer):
We make this request together following up a September 1 2015 letter recently in the news, sent by among others six George Mason University faculty members. In it, Profs. Jagadish Shukla, Edward Maibach, Paul Dirmeyer, Barry Klinger, Paul Schopf, and David Straus write the United States Department of Justice, expressly in their capacities as professors with your public institution dedicated to the vigorous exchange of ideas, to “strongly endorse” criminal investigation of those who disagree with them…
..please provide us copies of all records in the University’s system in the form of electronic mail sent From or To the above-named GMU faculty (including also in the cc: or bcc: fields) dated from June 1, 2015 through the date you process this request, inclusive, which use of contain any of the words RICO, racketeer, racketeering, DoJ, prosecute or prosecution.
Sept 29, Horner to Woodley:
We make this request following up several reports that George Mason University faculty member Prof. Jagadish Shukla is paying himself, through a largely taxpayer-funded nongovernmental organization, nearly three hundred thousand dollars per year ($292,688) for part-time work that is apparently quite similar to his work as GMU Professor and Director of its Climate Dynamics Program, for which he is paid between a quarter and a third of a million dollars per year (reportedly leaping from $250,866 in 2013 to $314,000 in 2014)…
… please provide us copies of each of the following, for Profs. Shukla, Dirmeyer, Maibach and Kinter for 2011,2012,2013,2014 and 2015, in GMU’s possession
I) Statements of Economic Interests, if you possess one or more copies of this public record originally filed with the Secretary of the Commonwealth
2) applications for and “written authorization” of waiver of conflicts of interest…
September 29, Elizabeth Woodley to Shukla, Maibach and 4 others:
I have received a FOIA request for e-mail communications which you may have sent or received from your Mason e-mail address in your capacity as Mason employees from June 1, 2015 to the present which include the keywords “RICO, racketeer, racketeering, DoJ, prosecute, or prosecution”.
The FOIA statute covers records which were created “in the course of public business” in your capacity as Mason employees….
Sept 29, Maibach to Woodley and others:
In my view, I was not paid by Mason to create the document (a letter) that is of interest to the requester, nor does the document directly relate to my job description…
Rather, it was written in my capacity as a concerned citizen, in my spare time.
Sept 30, Maibach to Woodley:
I estimate that it will take me 4 hours to comply, at a rate of $86.50 per hour
Oct 2, Maibach to letter signers:
Shukla and I respectfully request that you send us your private email address.
Oct 7, Woodley to Shukla and Maibach:
Please begin your FOIA respnse, and as you go therouh the emails, flag any information you believe to be provate information, personnel information… I will review the flagged information and decide whether it qualifies for an exemption..
Remember that our response may be challenged in court, that we will have to explain any assertions we asserted, and that state employees face personal civil liability for willful violations of the FOIA statute…
Oct 8, Maibach to Woodley:
It is my position that the time I spent preparing our letter was not conducted in the course of public business. Rather, it was conducted in my capacity as a private citizen, on my own time. .. Therefore I do not believe we have an obligation to disclose my emails related to the RICO letter
[Yet another incorrect judgement by Maibach – the legal ruling found otherwise.]
Some developments in this story:
Maibach and his lawyer file a “motion to intervene“, requesting that emails ordered to be released by the court on April 22, and again on May 13, should not be released. They say that his “right to academic freedom is at severe risk” and claim that the RICO letter was personal and “does not relate to his GMU research or teaching work”.
This is a blatantly false claim, since (a) Maibach’s web page says “His research currently focuses exclusively on how to mobilize populations to adopt behaviors and support public policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, obviously closely related to the RICO letter, (b) Maibach runs a course on Climate Change Communication Campaigns, (c) he signed as “Edward Maibach, George Mason University”, not as a private citizen.
Another document from CEI describes Maibach as a “legal gymnast”, and requests sanctions against his legal team.
The court throws out Maibach’s request, apparently in two minutes, leading to the release of further emails.
The further emails mentioned above have now been released, see blog post here, file of emails here, article from Energy in Depth here, story at Washington Times here. The latter article discusses how Shukla pleaded with Mann for help, who in turn went to activist organisations UCS (who had previously said they wanted nothing to do with the letter) and ClimateNexus. Maibach asks Chris Mooney for help, but he says “I’m just not sure what I would be able to do”. Mann claims that Climate Audit is “a fringe site w/ low readership”.
The 425-page file includes several detailed critical emails sent to the climate scientists and their universities. The letter signers have no answers to the questions, so decide not to reply-
“I decided it is folly to respond to any of these people” (Sarachik) , “Yes the best thing for all is to ignore these people” (Trenberth), “I agree the best thing is to ignore them” (Kalnay).
The response from John Holdren, Science advisor to the President, to the RICO letter borders on dismissive: “Regarding the letter’s proposal of a RICO investigation, though, neither the White House Office nor the Office of Science and Technology Policy determines or directs the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial or investigative decisions.”
Eugenia Kalnay gushes with excitement over the RICO letter:
Great email and great letter!
(and great idea!)
Thanks for doing this!
in October, Maibach and Shukla write a statement with the aim of “setting the record straight”, and ask the others to sign it. But four of the signers of the original letter say they don’t want their names on this.
One of them, Mark Cane, quotes Disraeli as saying “Never apologize, never explain” and thinks that this is good advice to follow (Mark Cane claims to be a scientist).