Top executives of Solyndra, the shuttered solar company that received a half-billion federal loan before going bankrupt, refused to answer questions from lawmakers Friday, instead invoking their rights against self-incrimination.
Furious Republican lawmakers described a the loan as a “taxpayer ripoff” — and pledged to continue probing whether the firm misled the government and whether the Obama administration failed to properly vet the company.
“All the evidence indicates. . .this was a reckless use of taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee investigating the loan to solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra. “.... We’re not done.”
Both Republican and Democratic members of the committee said they wanted to know how Solyndra executives could tell them in July that the Silicon Valley firm was prospering and doubling sales of its unique solar panel, and then file for bankruptcy on Aug. 31.
“You lied to me about the financial health of your company,” Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) said. “I guess a lot can happen in five weeks.”
Solyndra’s two top executivess, sitting grimly at the witness table, said they could not provide any answers.
“I have tremendous respect for this subcommittee,” said CEO Brian Harrison. “As much as I wish to answer the committee’s questions, I have been advised it is the better course” not to.
Harrison and Solyndra chief financial officer Bill Stover invoked their Fifth Amendment rights at least eight times before Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the House investigative subcommittee, excused them from the hearing, which lasted a total of one hour and 15 minutes.
“I’m disappointed I won’t get answers to those questions,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
Upton was particularly frustrated when both men declined to say even whether they thought taxpayers deserved information on how $535 million in public dollars had been spent.
“I don’t know what’s self-incrimining about answering a yes or no question about whether the taxpayers deserve to know what happened to half a billion dollars of their money,” Upton said, shaking his head. “There doesn’t appear to be any reason for these gentlemen not to answer these questions.”
The Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation of Solyndra and the loan it received in early 2009. Federal agents conducted a surprise raid of the company’s Silicon Valley headquarters on Sept. 8, a week after the company filed for bankruptcy, laying off 1,100 workers and leaving taxpayers obligated to pay off the half-billion-dollar federal loan.
Rep. Al Green, D-Tx. said Solyndra was “disingenuous at best” with Congress when it said --on the eve of a committee hearing to subpoena documents--that it was on track to double sales the next year. He said it led him to believe they had been less than honest with the Obama administration and federal officials authorizing their loan.
Several members said the Obama White House and Department of Energy were complicit in allowing taxpayers to be victims in a “Great Train Robbery”, by rushing reviewers to approve the loan to Solyndra in 2009 in time a press event with Vice President Biden. One said he’d like to buy some crime scene tape and use it to encircle the DOE agency headquarters.
“The taxpayers deserve answers and they deserve their money back” said Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa.
Upton and Stearns said before the hearing that Harrison and Stover had initially agreed to testify, and then reversed course.
“Who exactly are Solyndra’s executives trying to protect and what are they trying to hide?” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.
The solar-panel manufacturer shuttered its gleaming new 7-acre factory on Aug. 31 — just six weeks after Harrison visited Capitol Hill and told members his company had a bright future.
The plant, which cost $300 million to build, was financed with a guaranteed federal loan provided by the Obama administration’s Department of Energy.
A key question for lawmakers is what Solyndra executives knew about the likelihood their company would collapse — and when they knew it. New records show that company officials alerted the Department of Energy in January of this year that they were out of cash, and needed emergency help. The Energy Department agreed to help Solyndra restructure its loan so it could continue receiving installments of the taxpayers’ money, and delay repayment.
Solyndra was once touted by President Obama as the flagship of his administration’s effort to spur the clean-energy industry. The Washington Post reported earlier this month that e-mails showed that White House officials pushed federal reviewers for a decision on the Solyndra loan as they sought to schedule a press announcement with the company and Vice President Biden in September 2009.