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AG Kilmartin Urges End to Unconstitutional Congressional Interference with States' Exxon Investigation

Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, joined by a coalition of Attorneys General across the country, today urged Rep. Lamar Smith, Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, to end his inquiry into investigations being conducted by the states of Massachusetts and New York into possible securities and consumer protection law violations by the ExxonMobil Corporation.

The letter, dated August 11, 2016, was signed by Attorney General Kilmartin and attorneys general from California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

In an attempt to thwart the independent investigatory powers of the States, Congressman Lamar Smith, who is also the Chairman of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, issued a series of letters to Attorney General Kilmartin, as well as the attorneys general of New York, Massachusetts, and others requesting that each state produce any and all documents pertaining to any undergoing investigations into the oil giant, Exxon. The states refused and Chairman Smith then issued subpoenas, without a Committee vote, to Massachusetts and New York.

In the letter, the coalition calls on Congressman Smith to withdraw his subpoenas, and states: "Your interference in our colleagues' work ignores a 'vital consideration' under our constitutional system of dual sovereignty: the preservation of comity between the federal government and the states…. Any claim of a congressional right to 'oversee' the work of state constitutional law enforcement officers in fulfilling their core responsibilities under state law disrupts this comity and tears at the essential fabric of our national Constitution."

The letter also states: "In light of our nation's commitment to the preservation of a system of dual sovereignty, it is not surprising that, despite centuries of investigative and prosecutorial activity by state attorneys general in which constitutional objections have been raised, you have not identified a single valid precedent, from any period of our country's history, for the 'vigorous oversight' of state attorneys general that you are now proposing to take."

"As chief legal and chief consumer protection officers of our states, attorneys general have the right and obligation to gather information necessary to determine if a company has engaged in fraudulent or misleading conduct harmful to the residents," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "By claiming 'congressional oversight' and issuing subpoenas to Massachusetts and New York attorneys general, Chairman Smith has overreached his authority and threatened the sacred sovereignty of states."

In addition to the letter, on August 9, 2016, a coalition of attorneys general, including Attorney General Kilmartin, filed an amicus brief before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in opposition of a Motion for Preliminary Injunction for Exxon, after Exxon filed a complaint against Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey citing violation of First Amendment rights.

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