Bernie Sanders: DOJ Should Investigate Exxon-Mobil For Lying About Climate Change Since 1970s


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Bernie Sanders just wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling for a Department of Justice task force to investigate oil and gas giant ExxonMobil. A short time ago, I got a chance to speak with the senator and ask him why.

SANDERS: There is evidence that suggests way back in the 1970s, Exxon's scientists did studies and told the leadership of Exxon that climate change was real and potentially very, very dangerous. That's what they told them. Exxon took in this information and then proceeded to spend tens of millions of dollars on organizations whose job in life was to deny the reality of climate change. If all of that is true, that happens to be against the law.

HAYES: But why can't -- that just seems like doing a terrible thing, but why would that be against the law? If you said, yes, we know this thing is true, and we're going to pay money to propagandizing --

SANDERS: Well, that is -- you know, that is a violation of racketeering legislation. It is very similar to what the tobacco industry was convicted of, and why they paid a huge settlement. It wasn't that they were selling a product that caused cancer and killed people, it was that they lied. They had evidence within the industry to say their product was causing serious health problems. And what did they do? They went public, as you know, and said, oh, no, I’m Dr. Jones, I’m smoking cigarettes, it’s great to you -- they lied. That is -- that's the crime here. And if it is true, and we want the attorney general and a task force to investigation, they are breaking the law.

HAYES: Yes. I mean, obviously, a U.S. Senator can’t -- I mean, the criminal justice system works in independent fashion for a reason, right?

SANDERS: Right, right.

HAYES: So, you’re asking for a task force to essentially a preliminary investigation --

SANDERS: Exactly.

HAYES: -- as opposed to reaching some conclusion.

SANDERS: And here's the significance and the importance of this, Chris. Look, I happen to believe, obviously, that climate change is real. It is one of the great planetary crises we face. The scientist community is virtually honest. But when you have people like the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil today spending huge amounts of money trying to deny that reality, it slows up the entire world from aggressively addressing what is an international crisis. This is serious stuff.

HAYES: Do you anticipate we're going to see a lot of fossil fuel dollars flowing into this next election?

SANDERS: Do I anticipate that? Hmm, let me guess. Koch brothers are on record as saying they will spend some $900 million in this campaign cycle. They make most of their money through fossil fuel. And the other big energy companies certainly will not be far behind. Yes. And here’s something I want to point out.

HAYES: Yes, please?

SANDERS: When you look at the Republican Party today, you know, which is reactionary in so many areas, but on this particular area, in many cases, most of these guys deny the reality of climate change or they say we’re not sure. How do you think that happens? It happens because the Republican Party is significantly funded by the Koch brothers and the big energy companies. And the day after some Republican gets up there and say, you know, I read this stuff here, I think climate change is real, we've got to do something -- their funding is gone, and they're going to be primaried.

HAYES: You know, it's interesting because I was listening to "Rolling Stone" author Tim Dickinson who just wrote a piece about the House Freedom Caucus, and one of the things he points out is actually, you know, the House Freedom Caucus is opposed to some of the big funders of the Republican Party on certain issues, right? Some of the trade stuff they’ve made some noise about. But one place where they're really aligned is on fossil fuels. You don’t see -- there's really just a shocking amount of unanimity over there.

SANDERS: I’m trying to think where is the exception is to that rule, but this is what I would 99 percent guarantee to you that any Republican who said climate change is real, we have got to take bold action to transform our energy system, that person would be primaried by big energy money and likely defeated.

HAYES: Yes. Lindsey Graham obviously has sort of managed to survive, although he's not doing particularly well in the polls. Do you -- do you think that essentially the war is turning on the power of -- you’ve been on Capitol Hill now for several decades. You're not from a statement like Kentucky, right, where they really have kind of a death grip. Do you think their power is ebbing in any way?

SANDERS: I think public consciousness is growing that climate change is real. People are seeing it with their own eyes. They’re seeing it in California in the droughts. They're seeing it in the southwest and other areas in terms of forest fires, which are worse and more numerous than used to be the case. They’re seeing it in a heat wave in Pakistan. They're seeing it with their own eyes, and people are saying, yes, we better do something about it.

HAYES: But you've spend a career talking to voters where they are right, and when you were talking to someone -- I mean, it occurs to me part of the problem is, you're talking to someone in Iowa in a diner, who’s watching jobs leave their town, right? Is this something that comes up when you're doing this -- when you're doing campaign events? Is this front of mind for voters?

SANDERS: I think the issue of climate change is on the minds than a lot more people than the pundits think. And I think it is growing. I think people are just very, very concerned. The evidence scientifically and what people are saying it's so real that people are saying, hey, I’m worried about my kids and grandchildren and what kind of planet they will be living in.

HAYES: You do hear that?

SANDERS: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Younger people, absolutely. But I think you're seeing it more with older people as well.

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