House Republicans took the Solyndra probe another step on Thursday by authorizing subpoenas for White House documents on the Solyndra loan guarantee. As Joe Stephens and Carol Leonnig reported:
Republicans on a House Energy and Commerce Committee panel on Thursday overrode vigorous Democratic objections and took the apparently unprecedented step of authorizing subpoenas for internal White House communications related to a half-billion dollar taxpayer loan guarantee for the failed solar company Solyndra.
The move followed a last-minute attempt by the White House to fend off the move, with officials meeting with committee members and delivering several boxes of e-mails and other documents to committee investigators on Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Diana DeGette (Colo.), ranking Democrat on the panel, called it a “sad day” for the committee and “an act of irresponsible partisanship,” stressing that the committee had never before subpoenaed the White House. She noted the administration had already turned over thousands of pages of documents and said a subpoena should be issued only after all alternative routes have been abandoned.
Republicans said they had hoped to avoid the step, but that the committee’s long-running investigation had failed to get to the bottom of why Solyndra, which collapsed in August and is now under criminal investigation, was selected to receive the Obama administration’s first loan guarantee under the stimulus act. President Obama last year visited the company’s California operation, whose biggest investors were venture capital funds linked to Tulsa billionaire George Kaiser, a major Obama fundraiser.
Some Republicans have questioned whether the administration rushed stimulus funding out the door to benefit its political supporters. On Oct. 14, the White House told the committee that it would not comply with a request for all internal White House communications regarding the Solyndra loan.
More details emerged about the Solyndra bankruptcy this week, including that the Obama administration weighed and rejected an option to bail out the company when it was close to bankruptcy. As AP explained :
Days before a solar panel maker collapsed, the Obama administration considered a bailout that would have provided an infusion of cash and made the federal government a part-owner of the company.
Officials rejected the plan, which was recommended in August by the investment banking firm Lazard Ltd. Lazard was paid $1 million for analyzing options related to the faltering company, Solyndra Inc.
Details of the bailout plan were among nearly 1,200 pages of documents released by the government Wednesday, hours before a House subcommittee was set to vote on a plan to subpoena White House documents related to Solyndra.
The Republican-controlled House Energy and Commerce Committee said a subpoena was necessary because the White House has denied or delayed requests for thousands of documents related to Solyndra. The California company received a $528 million federal loan before filing for bankruptcy protection and laying off 1,100 workers.
An Energy Department spokesman said the administration was cooperating with House investigators and has provided more than 80,000 pages of documents. The administration turned over more than 15,000 pages of documents to the committee this week, including about 1,200 pages of communications between the White House and the Energy Department, Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera said.
DOE officials also have participated in a committee hearing and made more than a half-dozen officials available for briefings with committee staff since March, LaVera said.
Congressional Republicans have been investigating Solyndra’s bankruptcy amid embarrassing revelations that federal officials were warned it had problems but nonetheless continued to support it, and sent President Barack Obama to visit the company and praise it publicly.
The Department of Energy’s own Inspector General testified before Congress this week that the DOE should never have been managing a fund as large as the federal loan program. As Ed O’Keefe reported:
The government watchdog who first raised concerns about the federal loan program used to finance the now-bankrupt solar company Solyndra said Wednesday that the Energy Department was ill-equipped to quickly distribute billions of dollars in economic stimulus funding.
Making his first appearance on Capitol Hill since the Solyndra scandal broke, the Energy Department’s inspector general, Gregory H. Friedman, told a House subcommittee that Energy’s $35.2 billion in stimulus funding eclipsed its annual budget by $8 billion and placed strains on the federal, state and local officials responsible for distributing the funds.
In some cases, state government personnel tasked with distributing the federal dollars had been furloughed because of state budget crunches, Friedman said.
Friedman’s testimony was meant to summarize more than 100 investigations conducted by his office into Energy’s stimulus spending. The probes have recovered $2.3 million in fraudulently obtained stimulus money and sparked five criminal prosecutions.
Several of Friedman’s probes have concluded that the political push to quickly create jobs and spur economic development didn’t match economic realities on the ground. And although he credits the department with making significant progress in distributing the federal aid, he said 45 percent of stimulus dollars distributed by Energy had not been allocated by state and local government as of Oct. 22.
More from The Washington Post