article

11.11.11

White House Releases New Solyndra Emails Amid Congress Subpoena Fight

The Obama adminstration's memos on the Solyndra scandal were released in an effort to defuse a subpoena fight with Congress—but there’s no smoking gun about donor influence. Daniel Stone reports.

Seeking to ease a subpoena standoff with Congress, the White House on Friday turned over to House investigators 135 pages of new documents detailing presidential aides’ discussions about the Solyndra loan guarantee and offered to let lawmakers personally inspect other memos that detail more sensitive deliberations.

The new memos, obtained by The Daily Beast from a government source, mostly detail efforts by the White House to plan an event at Solyndra with Vice President Joe Biden in summer 2009, when the Energy Department was announcing the $535 million loan to the now-bankrupt solar firm.

In one string of emails from August 2009, shortly before Biden’s appearance at the California company by video, White House environmental adviser Heather Zichal raised concerns “from the funding community” about the Energy Department’s plan to give the loan guarantee to the solar firm.

“That was a concern about the financial status of Solyndra,” an administration official told reporters on Friday afternoon. “If you’re going to do an event, [Zychal wondered] is there communications concern about the financial condition of the company that we should be aware of?”

Zichal’s worries were communicated to higher-ups at the White House, including Biden’s then-chief of staff Ron Klain, but officials proceeded with the Biden event and the loan. The emails state then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was the official who suggested the administration hold an event touting Solyndra in connection with loan approval, the memos show.

“[Klain] has talked to Rahm about this and feels Rahm wants this too (barring any concerns)—POTUS’s involvement was Rahm’s idea,” Aditya Kumar, a White House director of special projects, wrote in an email to other officials in August 2009.

In late 2010, when the administration had decided to renegotiate the loan as Solyndra’s financial troubles worsened, one official lamented in an email that the administration wouldn’t be in jeopardy of a loan default by Solyndra had it relied instead on tax credits to spur clean-energy growth.

The loan and Solyndra’s subsequent bankruptcy filing have become a focal point of investigations by House Republicans into whether Democratic donors and fundraisers associated with the company exerted any pressure on the administration to approve a loan to the company despite its shaky financial situation.

Administration officials directly familiar with the new documents stressed repeatedly Friday that they showed there was no political pressure or influence by campaign contributors who backed Solyndra that influenced the Energy Department’s decision to award the loan.

"[Klain] has talked to Rahm about this and feels Rahm wants this too (barring any concerns)—POTUS’s involvement was Rahm’s idea."

The new emails support the administration’s general storyline about how it awarded the loan guarantee amid some internal concerns about the financial health of the company and why the administration later agreed to renegotiate the terms of the loans to put taxpayers’ interests behind those of Solyndra’s private investors in case of a default.

It also is unclear whether the new gesture by the White House, releasing some memos and offering to let congressional investigators come to the White House to read others, would ease the demands of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that more documents be produced under a subpoena issued recently.

White House officials have said that subpoena was too broad and that they have now produced 185,000 pages of documents to answer all the legitimate oversight questions Congress should have.