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Paxton Drops Challenge as Exxon Mobil Probe Shifts

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his Alabama counterpart have dropped their legal bid to squelch a U.S. Virgin Islands investigation of Exxon Mobil after the U.S. territory agreed to with draw a subpoena for company documents.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton during a May 25, 2016, press conference.

*Clarification appended

Texas and Alabama's attorneys general on Thursday said they have dropped legal action against the Virgin Islands after the U.S. territory agreed to drop its request for records from Exxon Mobil Corp. as part of an investigation into whether the company misled investors by understating climate change risks.

The dismissal comes a month after the world's largest publicly traded oil and gas firm, which is headquartered in Irving, asked Ken Paxton, Texas' top lawyer, to challenge the investigation launched by the U.S. Virgin Islands' attorney general. Paxton and Luther Strange of Alabama, a fellow Republican, filed a motion to intervene in the case.

Paxton said in a statement Thursday that U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Earl Walker had issued an "unconstitutional and harassing subpoena for decades of Exxon Mobil records."

“The so-called 'investigation' by Walker was a constitutionally improper attempt to suppress the freedom of speech based only on the content being communicated," Paxton said. "In America, we have the freedom to disagree, and we do not legally prosecute people just because their opinion is different from ours. We are glad that the abuse of power by Attorney General Walker, and those that he hired, has come to an end."

In March, Walker filed a subpoena in a U.S. district court in Fort Worth against Exxon Mobil, and accused the company of manufacturing a product that is "destroying this earth." His probe was largely focused on whether Exxon misrepresented its “knowledge of the likelihood" that its products and activities contributed to global warming.

On Thursday, Walker's office said it had withdrawn the subpoena so it could could continue its investigation "without the distraction of this procedural litigation."

"I intend to continue to work with our state partners to advance our common investigation, while preserving our limited resources to address the many other issues that face the Virgin Islands and its residents," Walker said in a statement.

About 16 other state attorneys general said they would jointly investigate whether the company had misled the public and downplayed the risks of climate change, even as its own scientists warned company executives about consequences and published research.

The multinational oil and gas conglomerate has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. It said the probe was politically motivated and violates constitutional protections, including free speech, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures and due process of law.

Clarification: This story originally stated that Attorney General of the U.S. Virgin Islands was dropping his probe of Exxon Mobil. While he has withdrawn a contested subpoena for company documents, he says he is continuing his investigation.

Disclosure: Exxon Mobil Corp. has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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