Even so, on Aug. 19, 2009, Spinner e-mailed an aide to then-Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that Solyndra was solid, and he suggested it deserved government support.
“I haven’t heard anything negative on my side,” he responded in the e-mail exchange, proposing that he set up a talk with whomever was raising red flags. “I . . . have no idea what they’re referring [to].”
Spinner’s comments came in newly released e-mails that provide a rare window into interactions among the Obama White House, venture capital investors, and key decision makers inside federal agencies. In an administration that said it would curtail lobbyists’ influence, the documents show ardent lobbying by political appointees inside the agencies and significant White House access given to venture capitalists with a major stake in the $40 billion stimulus investment program for clean energy.
Solyndra, once a showcase for Obama’s signature stimulus initiative to spur clean technologies on U.S. soil, is now a shuttered firm that left taxpayers on the hook to repay its half-billion-dollar loan. Republican lawmakers probing the deal allege that the company won favoritism because its largest owners included investment funds linked to George B. Kaiser, a major Obama fundraiser. Kaiser has said he did not intervene on behalf of Solyndra.
Last month, FBI agents raided the company’s Fremont, Calif., headquarters in a criminal probe into suspected accounting fraud.
A senior administration official declined to comment on whether Spinner violated ethics rules. Department of Energy spokesman Dan Leistikow said Spinner could monitor the Solyndra application, though the memo also said Spinner “would not participate in any discussion” of Solyndra’s application.
“The memo says he is allowed to get status updates about clients of his wife’s firm — since she wasn’t receiving any financial benefit from those clients — but wasn’t allowed to make decisions about those applications, “Leistikow said. “Tracking the status of applications was part of his job — making decisions about those applications was not.”
Spinner, who left the agency in September 2010 to become a fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank, did not respond to calls or e-mails requesting comment.
His wife, Allison Spinner, also did not respond. But Courtney Dorman, a spokeswoman for her law firm, said that Allison Spinner did not work on matters involving Solyndra and that the firm established “an ethical wall” around her. That wall barred her from working on other Energy Department matters, discussing them with others at the firm, and looking at related documents.