The warning, which did not convince the White House to drop the Obama factory visit, was detailed in e-mails released Monday by the Democratic minority on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The panel is investigating a $535 million government-backed loan to the now-shuttered company.
Democrats said the e-mails demonstrate that there was no political favoritism for Solyndra or for the Obama fundraiser whose family foundation held an interest in the company. But the internal messages revealed for the first time the high level of White House interest in the startup and its faltering finances after the Energy Department backed it with $535 million in loans.
On Monday, Obama made his first public comments about Solyndra’s collapse, saying that he does not regret supporting or visiting the company as part of his administration’s backing of clean-energy companies.
“Now there are going to be some failures,” he said in an ABC News/Yahoo online television interview. “Hindsight is always 20/20. It went through the normal review process and people thought this was a good bet.”
Since Solyndra filed for bankruptcy on Aug. 31, leaving taxpayers on the hook for almost half a billion dollars, the White House has said that decisions about supporting the solar-panel manufacturer were made by career employees at the Department of Energy, starting in the Bush administration.
But the e-mails capture the vigorous debate within the Obama White House about whether the solar-panel manufacturer was a smart bet. They also highlight the angst inside the West Wing about whether the president’s initiative to support clean energy was ill-equipped to pick winners, or could, as some hoped, help validate Obama’s use of $80 billion in stimulus to build a clean-energy industry.
Obama’s Energy Department had provided Solyndra with a government-backed loan in 2009. A year later, when the company ran out of money, the agency agreed to refinance Solyndra’s loan and continue paying out federal funds.
What was once a showcase of that Obama clean-energy initiative is now a political crisis for the White House. Despite the federal largesse, Solyndra’s sudden shutdown left 1,100 employees out of work and many of its assets up for auction.
A week later, FBI agents raided the company’s headquarters in a criminal probe looking at potential accounting fraud.
In spring 2010, before Solyndra’s fortunes turned, the White House highlighted the administration’s investment in the company in a “Main Street Tour,” to show taxpayers how their stimulus dollars had been put to work.