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Right Turn
Posted at 09:30 AM ET, 09/14/2011

Solyndra scandal, another Obama debacle

President Obama’s problems are multiplying . Unemployment remains high. His jobs bill, even according to Democrats, isn’t going to get through in anything like its present form. And now Solyndra has become a full-blown mess, ABC News reports:

The company’s solar panel factory was heralded as a centerpiece of the president’s green energy plan — billed as a way to jump start a promising new industry. And internal emails uncovered by investigators for the House Energy and Commerce Committee that were shared exclusively with ABC News show the Obama administration was keenly monitoring the progress of the loan, even as analysts were voicing serious concerns about the risk involved. “This deal is NOT ready for prime time,” one White House budget analyst wrote in a March 10, 2009 email, nine days before the administration formally announced the loan.
“If you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the W[est] W[ing] QUICKLY,” wrote Ronald A. Klain, who was chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden, in another email sent March 7, 2009. The “West Wing” is the portion of the White House complex that holds the offices of the president and his top staffers. Klain declined comment to ABC News.

But that’s not all. The Post reports that the White House applied pressure to get the deal done: “The Obama White House tried to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion-dollar loan to the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra so Vice President Biden could announce the approval at a September 2009 groundbreaking for the company’s factory, newly obtained e-mails show.”

And there is plenty of email evidence:

The August 2009 e-mails, released to The Washington Post, show White House officials repeatedly asking OMB reviewers when they would be able to decide on the federal loan and noting a looming press event at which they planned to announce the deal. In response, OMB officials expressed concern that they were being rushed to approve the company’s project without adequate time to assess the risk to taxpayers, according to information provided by Republican congressional investigators.

The White House previously said there was no involvement whatsoever.

Right about now, if this were a Republican administration, special prosecutors would be scouring the White House and subpoenas would be flying. We may get there. Will the FBI and the Justice Department investigate their White House bosses or does the matter require someone from outside the administration to step in?

A conservative legal guru tells me that while the independent counsel law has technically lapsed, “the premise of the IC law remains as worthy (and it is at least somewhat worthy) as it ever was. The regulatory special counsel procedure was supposed to take its place.” The IC procedure was supposed to kick in when the case “presented a ‘credible’ allegation of wrongdoing . . . and involved people in certain named positions or categories.” In short, if “the scandal is fairly traced to high White House officials, then [Attorney General Eric] Holder and other high DOJ officials should not be directing the investigation. A ‘independent-minded’ special prosecutor should be in charge.”

For now the House Energy and Commerce Committee will get a shot at grilling the administration. (“‘This is not right. This is not good,’ said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who chairs the House committee that is examining the loan. ‘It makes you sick to your stomach. This is taxpayer money.’”)

The story is a dangerous one for the Obama administration for multiple reasons. First, it is in fact the quintessential crony capitalism story that personifies the unseemly conflict of interests that arise between pols and donors. Second, it highlights the absence of business acumen in the administration. This is its idea of how government “creates” jobs? Third, the initial White House response, that it was totally hands-off, was a lie. That’s never a comfortable place for the White House. And finally, it provides fodder to the Tea Party Republicans who have been railing about this sort of behavior for some time and now have further grounds for criticizing the permanent political class.

This may not be Obama’s biggest problem, but it’s getting up there. At a time when he’s cajoling Congress to spend more money for the benefit of political allies (e.g. teachers unions) it’s legitimate to ask: Can we trust the administration to spend our money?

By  |  09:30 AM ET, 09/14/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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