WH Denies Involvement in Solyndra Loan, Despite E-Mails Indicating Otherwise

Fred Lucas | September 16, 2011 | 10:08am EDT
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President Obama is given a tour of the Solyndra plant by executive vice-president Ben Bierman, right, and CEO Chris Gronet in May 2010. (AP Photo)

Washington (CNSNews.com) – The White House says it played no role in steering more than half-a-billion in taxpayer dollars to a solar panel firm that went bankrupt and is now under investigation by the FBI. But e-mails subpoenaed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee indicate the White House was eager to move quickly on the loan.

One day after the committee released the subpoenaed e-mails, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked why the Obama administration pushed the $535 million loan to Solyndra Inc. of Fremont, Calif., despite numerous concerns expressed by career employees of the Energy Department and even the White House Office of Management and Budget.

“The e-mails, as have been amply demonstrated because we provided them as part of our cooperation, had to do with trying to schedule whether or not the vice president was going to make an announcement,” Carney told reporters Thursday. “It was a scheduling issue. That was the focus of the White House’s interest.”

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In various speeches since the $535-million stimulus loan to Solyndra, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have praised the energy firm as the key to the country’s economic future.

One of the e-mails disclosed at the hearing was sent to the Energy Department by an assistant to then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. The email was dated Aug. 31, 2009, a few days before Biden’s scheduled speech on Sept. 4. Emanuel’s aide asked the Energy Department if “there is anything we can help speed along on OMB [Office of Management and Budget] side.”

Carney, pressed further on the matter, said, “I have to correct you, because there is no evidence that the White House was involved in the loan because they weren’t. The White House was involved in trying to find out when a decision would be made so staff here could make a decision about the vice president having an event.

“As you know, and anyone who travels with us and understands the complexity of scheduling of White House events involving the two principals, the president and the vice president -- that process engages a lot of people,” Carney continued. “A whole series of decisions have to be made regarding scheduling whatever the nature of the event.”

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy early last week and laid off 1,100 employees. The FBI raided its Fremont, Calif. offices and secured warrants to search the homes of Solyndra executives. The Energy Department’s Office of Inspector General also is probing the loan.

It has been widely reported that George Kaiser, who owns about one-third of Solyndra, was a major bundler for the Obama presidential campaign in 2008. Asked about Kaiser’s visits to the White House, Carney said he did not lobby for the loan.

“George Kaiser himself has said he did not lobby administration officials on this,” Carney said on Thursday. “He was involved with a lot of charitable efforts.”

On Sept. 4, 2009, Biden appeared via satellite for the groundbreaking of the Solyndra plant that was paid for by the stimulus money. “The announcement today is part of the unprecedented investment this administration is making in renewable energy and exactly what the Recovery Act is all about,” Biden said at the time.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu attended the same groundbreaking in person and called it the “second industrial revolution.”

The Biden speech was given via satellite link. Nonetheless, Carney continued to stress that White House e-mails promoting the loan were for scheduling reasons.

“Again, if you look at the e-mails, the issue that involved the vice president having this event did not drive the loan process,” Carney said. “The loan guarantee was …as a result of a merit-based process by career professionals at DOE. The same process has been in place for all of these green investments.”

Solyndra first applied for the DOE loan in December 2006. As the application worked its way through the process, the department’s Credit Committee – made up of career federal employees, not political appointees – sent the proposal back to department staff on Jan. 9, 2009 (just before George W. Bush left office, saying, “the number of issues unresolved at this time makes a recommendation for approval premature at this time.”

On Jan. 26, 2009 – six days after Obama’s inauguration – an email from Energy Department staff said, “We are approaching the beginning of the approval process for Solyndra again.” On March 12 of that year, a second Credit Committee meeting delivered a unanimous vote for the company’s loan application.

One March 6, 2009 email between OMB staff read, “DOE staff just told me that there’s a 99 percent certainty that President Obama, on March 19 in California for other reasons, will announce that DOE is offering a loan guarantee to Solyndra. As far as I can tell, the obligations won’t be entered until May, but once the president endorses it, I doubt seriously that the (Energy) secretary will withdraw for any reason.”

On March 7, 2009, Biden Chief of Staff Ronald Klain wrote in an email to OMB staff, “Can we chat on Monday about the DOE flag in here on Solyndra … If you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the W[est] W[ing] QUICKLY.”

A few days later, on March 10, 2009, an email between OMB staff said, “the deal is not ready for primetime.”

On Aug. 31, 2009, just a few days before Biden made his announcement at the Solyndra groundbreaking, an email from OMB staff and Terrell McSweeny, special assistant to the vice president, said, “We have ended up with a situation of having to do rushed approvals on a couple of occasions (and we are worried about Solyndra at the end of the week). We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due-diligence reviews and have the approval set the date for the announcement rather than the other way around.”

President Obama spoke on May 25, 2010 at the Solyndra plant in Fremont, Calif., presenting it as a model for the future economy and the success of the Recovery Act.

“Every day that you build this expanded facility, as you fill orders for solar panels to ship around the world, you’re demonstrating that the promise of clean energy isn’t just an article of faith -- not anymore,” Obama said “It’s not some abstract possibility for science fiction movies or a distant future -- 10 years down the road or 20 years down the road. It’s happening right now. The future is here. We’re poised to transform the ways we power our homes and our cars and our businesses. And we’re poised to lead our competitors in the development of new technologies and products and businesses.  And we are poised to generate countless new jobs, good-paying middle-class jobs, right here in the United States of America.”

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