Even dedicated opponents of climate action concede that hauling climate scientists before Congress and challenging their findings could easily backfire, as many representatives lack a sophisticated grasp of climatology and run the risk of making embarrassing errors.
“It’s a trap for a lot of members,” said Marc Morano, a former Republican staff member on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee and publisher of Climate Depot, a Web site that advances the arguments of climate skeptics. “They’re apt to make mistakes.”
Meanwhile, a planned investigation by Representative Darrell Issa of California into alleged instances of manipulation and fraud by climate scientists — broadly similar to those cited by Mr. Cuccinelli in his legal complaints — has been indefinitely postponed.
Yet as the Republican leadership puts the brakes on a climate science confrontation, Mr. Cuccinelli has forged ahead.
In the process, his critics say, he has not only made mistakes, but also twisted facts to bolster his case against the climatologist, Michael E. Mann, now a professor at Pennsylvania State University.
Sherwood L. Boehlert, a retired Republican congressman from New York and a former chairman of the House Science Committee, is among those who have sharply criticized Mr. Cuccinelli’s tactics.
“I find no logical explanation for spending taxpayer dollars on this politically designed, headline-grabbing pursuit of his,” said Mr. Boehlert, whose panel in 2006 investigated nearly identical charges by climate skeptics that Dr. Mann had falsified results but found no evidence of wrongdoing.
More than 800 professors and scientists in Virginia have petitioned the attorney general to abandon his pursuit of Dr. Mann. As the university fights the investigation, a state judge has ruled substantially in its favor although a final decision has yet to be made.
So Republicans have a problem. They want a witch hunt against science and all its pesky consequences that would hurt the bottom lines of energy companies that donate millions to Republicans, but they don't know how to make it not look like a witch hunt against science. Granted, it's difficult trying to avoid looking like an uninformed moron in front of the cameras when you're actively choosing to be ignorant of the situation, and even Republicans have figured out that they are in over their heads here.
"Because I say so" isn't going to cut it in a congressional hearing and they know it. Cuccinelli is on his own.