“Immediate bankruptcy meant a 100 percent certainty of default, with an unfinished plant as collateral,” he said. “Restructuring improved the chance of recovering taxpayer money by giving the company a fighting chance at success, with a completed plant as collateral.”
Republicans say the so-called subordination deal was a clear violation of the law. Energy Department law states that government loans “shall be subject to the condition that the obligation is not subordinate to other financing.”
By allowing private investors to recoup their $75 million before taxpayers, the Energy Department violated that law, Republicans charged repeatedly during the hearing. But Mr. Chu said department officials and outside lawyers deemed it proper.
“Our general counsel advised me it was legal,” Mr. Chu said, calling the restructuring a “difficult choice for us to make.”
In what he called a “straight-up Texas question,” Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican, asked whether Mr. Chu would agree to restructure the loan if he knew then what he knows now.
Mr. Chu said it would be a “last-ditch” move.
Mr. Barton said the “elephant in the room” in the hearing on the Solyndra collapse was the involvement of Mr. Kaiser, the Oklahoma businessman who raised money for Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign and who controls Argonaut Private Equity, the major investor in Solyndra.
Argonaut and Madrone Capital, which has ties to the Walton family of Wal-Mart, provided the $75 million to try to keep Solyndra operating earlier this year after the Energy Department agreed to the restructuring deal.
Mr. Chu said he did not discuss Solyndra’s loan with Mr. Kaiser. He said the restructuring idea came from the Energy Department’s loan office and he later approved it. The department’s loans chief at the time, Jonathan Silver, resigned after Solyndra’s bankruptcy.
Republicans also pointed out that the Treasury Department told the Energy Department to get a legal opinion from the Justice Department on the restructuring. However, that never happened, and Republicans repeatedly questioned Mr. Chu on why.
Mr. Chu said the Energy Department obtained outside legal opinion instead. He said the department would need to reach out to Justice only if there were changes in the terms of the loan, such as the amount to be repaid or the interest rate.
Asked at a different point in the hearing whether anybody should apologize for the Solyndra collapse, Mr. Chu didn’t offer an apology. But he did say the department would not have backed loans to the company if officials knew then what they know now.
“Certainly, knowing what I know now, we’d say no,” he said.
Still, he disputed charges that the Energy Department badly mishandled the Solyndra loan.