Hold that subpoena: White House is steamrolled on Solyndra testimony

Just a week after an independent report confirmed that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) loan portfolio "as a whole, is expected to perform well and holds less than the amount of risk envisioned by Congress when it created and funded the program," according to White House spokesperson Eric Schultz, the Grand Old Party (GOP) is continuing its investigation into whether cronyism and incaution drove the DOE’s ill-fated decision to give U.S. solar manufacturer Solyndra a US$535 million loan guarantee.

The Committee’s investigative panel had planned to vote Friday on a resolution authorizing subpoenas to White House officials. However, in a deal struck overnight, that action was derailed.

Instead, the White House agreed to sanction testimony by a number of high-level administrators and advisers – among them, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal; Energy Branch Chief at OMB Kevin Carroll; Branch Chief at OMB Kelly Colyar; and OMB Program Examiner Fouad Saad; as well Aditya Kumar, the former Senior Adviser to former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

The Republican legislators, led by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL), sent a letter to the White House’s top lawyers immediately after the 60-day audit of the loans by former Treasury Department official Herb Allison was released, warning that they would subpoena the officials, if they were not made available for interviews. The letter gave the White House until February 17 to authorize the testimony.

Since last year, when Fremont, California-based Solyndra began experiencing financial difficulties, Republicans have issued two subpoenas for documentation on the loan guarantee – one in July to OMB, and one in November, to the White House.

White House spokesperson Eric Schultz provided the following comment to pv magazine: "After 187,000 pages of documents, nine committee staff briefings, and five Congressional hearings, Republicans’ allegation of political favoritism is as unfounded today as it was a year ago when they started this investigation. We have cooperated with the Committee’s oversight requests for the past year and will continue to show good faith, as they now demand more materials and want more meetings despite no real relevance to the Energy Department’s decision-making on the loan."

Speaking to the GOP’s motivations for its continuing scrutiny, Schultz said, "At last month’s House Republican retreat, the Leadership increased pressure on its members to ratchet-up oversight of the Obama Administration for political reasons. And we are now seeing that directive come to life. It is troubling that House members would use their investigative authority and taxpayer resources to seek a political advantage. We believe political motivations shouldn’t drive this investigation."

Schultz noted that there is plenty of support for the White House among those watching the case from the outside – pointing to a recent comment made by Jonathan Rothwell, a senior research analyst at the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization. "I suspect that when all the information finally comes out, there will be very little that is scandalous," said Rothwell, adding, "Although Republicans will surely try to keep Solyndra in the news until, oh, next November, the scandal will eventually evaporate because there is very little there."

For their part, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Fred Upton and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman, Cliff Stearns made the following statement: "We are pleased that we will finally have a chance to talk to those administration officials who actually did the substantive work on the Solyndra loan guarantee. Speaking to these key players is critical to learning the lessons of Solyndra as we work to ensure taxpayers are never again paying the price for the administration’s risky bets.

"This week will mark a year since we launched our investigation on the failed Solyndra loan. Over the last 12 months the White House has sadly put up every roadblock imaginable and engaged in needless delays. All that we have asked for since day one is the Obama administration’s cooperation. We appreciate this willingness to comply, and we continue to call on the White House to finally allow the truth to come out; and fully comply and turn over all internal Solyndra documents responsive to our subpoena. We owe it to taxpayers to end the delays and finally resolve the many important unanswered questions."

Finally, today, in related action, Upton and Stearns issued a press release saying that Energy Secretary Steven Chu owed them answers regarding his support of a $1.4 billion partial loan guarantee for a large-scale rooftop solar project that was to be supplied equipment by Solyndra.

"Documents gathered during the investigation have raised questions about DOE’s approval of a conditional commitment to San Francisco-based Prologis while Solyndra’s financial condition deteriorated," they said, adding "The documents reveal that Solyndra’s involvement in Prologis’ Project Amp was a significant factor, both in the negotiations between the DOE and Solyndra relating to a possible second restructuring of the loan guarantee in August 2011 and in the closing of the Project Amp loan guarantee. Committee leaders are seeking information about the relationship between Prologis and Solyndra and the reasons behind Secretary Chu’s personal intervention."