Tillerson May Face Deposition About ‘Wayne Tracker’ Alias EmailsBy
Exxon says it’s complied with N.Y. AG’s document requests
Schneiderman probes oil company disclosure on climate change
New York will seek to question top Exxon Mobil Corp. executives under oath as part of a probe into the accuracy of the company’s statements about climate change after discovering an email alias used by former Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson.
Tillerson, now U.S. Secretary of State, used the name Wayne Tracker for his secondary internal email account at Exxon, created for sending the most sensitive messages to and from company board members, including communications about the risks associated with climate change, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said Monday.
Tillerson, whose middle name is Wayne, employed the account from at least 2008 through 2015, though Exxon says all relevant emails were turned over to the attorney general last year, without deception.
"We made it clear that the Wayne Tracker account belonged to Rex Tillerson," said Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers. "Some of the emails were signed ‘Rex.’" He said Schneiderman’s revelation of the account was "political."
Aliases have been employed by top corporate executives for email accounts to throw off hackers, avoid people guessing their digital address or reduce unwanted messages. Some have used secondary email accounts while others sought to mask their communications.
Bob Lutz, a former vice chairman who left General Motors Co. in 2010, used an alternative email while at the automaker to correspond with outsiders. His "Red Rufus" email account, a reference to his call sign as a Marine pilot, is still his primary email address, Lutz said Tuesday in an email.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market Inc., posted anonymous messages in 2007 on Yahoo Inc.’s financial chat boards using the name “rahodeb.” The company changed its code of conduct to forbid executives from posting on message boards or blogs without company approval.
In the Exxon case, Schneiderman requested all relevant documents, including Tillerson’s Wayne Tracker emails, as he "determines which witnesses to seek testimony from as the investigation proceeds to its next logical phase," according to the filing. The existence of the secondary email account was discovered by Schneiderman’s team while reviewing other Exxon documents.
Exxon is seeking to derail probes by New York and Massachusetts into whether the company misled investors for years about the possible impact of climate change on its business.
Someone in Exxon’s general counsel’s office knew or should have known about the alias account, said Carl Barnes, a former corporate general counsel who’s a lawyer at Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton PC.
"If they did not know, or if they failed to bring it to the attention of the litigation team producing documents in response to the court order, that does indicate an ethical and corporate governance failure," Barnes said.
New York’s top cop said Exxon has been dragging its feet in turning over the documents, especially those from the company’s management committee. The probe was well underway before Tillerson departed Exxon on Jan. 1 after being tapped by President Donald Trump to be America’s top diplomat.
The discovery of the alias address increases the likelihood that Tillerson will be among those questioned under oath in the case, according to Jon Barooshian, a former assistant district attorney in Massachusetts who’s a white-collar criminal defense lawyer with Bowditch & Dewey LLP in Boston.
"If I’m Eric Schneiderman and I know Tillerson failed to disclose the existence of the second email account, I’d want to know what else he failed to disclose," Barooshian said. "He’ll want to get him in front of a court reporter under oath."
Justice Barry Ostrager in New York state court in Manhattan, who has been overseeing the case, must decide whether to schedule a hearing on the matter.
"Something like this could easily slip through the cracks and only get discovered later," said Richard Scheff, a former federal prosecutor who isn’t involved in the matter, said of Exxon’s alleged failure to identify the alias account.
It may be up to the judge to decide if Exxon was forthcoming about Tillerson’s alias account.
"Rex Tillerson’s use of an alias email address raises all sorts of who, what,
when, where, and why questions," said Carrie Cohen, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan who is a white-collar criminal-defense lawyer. "These types of questions probably can only be answered by Tillerson, thus greatly increasing his chances of being deposed."
— With assistance by Jeff Green