- The Washington Times - Monday, January 16, 2012

A congressional panel investigating the bankrupt solar company Solyndra LLC wants a law firm that advised the government on the company’s failed half-billion-dollar federal loan deal to turn over billing and other records.

The House Committee on Commerce and Energy sent a letter Friday to Keith C. Wetmore, chairman of Morrison & Foerster LLP, outlining how the law firm advised the Department of Energy on the Solyndra loan.

The letter, signed by Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and committee chairman, and Rep. Cliff Stearns, a Florida Republican who chairs the committee’s investigations panel, seeks “all documents” containing communications between the law firm and DOE about a restructuring of the government’s loan to Solyndra.

The loan restructuring emerged as a key focus in the congressional probe after Solyndra declared bankruptcy in September. Under the restructuring, if the company collapsed, taxpayers were to be placed behind investment companies that poured $75 million in fresh capital into Solyndra. DOE has defended the so-called subordination, saying it gave the company the best chance of surviving.

But Republicans say the decision broke the law. Republicans also say Morrison & Foerster advised DOE against the restructuring deal, but DOE went forward based on a legal memo from a department lawyer, Susan Richardson, chief counsel for the DOE loan program.

“The Department of Energy sought outside legal counsel on the restructuring and the subordination of the taxpayers, with Morrison & Foerster advising in a memo already in the committee’s possession that DOE could not subordinate the taxpayers,” Mr. Stearns said Friday.

A DOE spokesman Friday defended the department’s handling of the loan.

“The committee has conducted an 11-month investigation that has included 185,000 pages of documents provided to Congress, nine committee staff briefings, five congressional hearings, and interviews with the company’s investors, only to learn what we have consistently said,” DOE spokesman Damien LaVera said. “The decisions related to this loan were made solely on the merits after careful review by experts in our loan program.”

The Washington Times reported in September that Morrison Foerster had received more than $1.9 million for its services on the Solyndra loan. The firm did not respond to questions at the time, and a message left with the firm Monday was not returned. But in previous postings on the firm’s website before Solyndra’s bankruptcy, the firm made no secret of its work on the loan deal.

In a paper posted on the firm’s website, one Morrison Foerster associate was quoted as saying, “Since this was the first project under the DOE loan guarantee program, we created the documents and the legal framework that will be used for future DOE renewable energy transactions.”

The committee also sent letters seeking documents from another law firm, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, which advised Solyndra in the loan, and SAIC, parent company of the engineering firm R.W. Beck. The engineering company issued two independent reports on Solyndra for DOE.

Meanwhile, the White House provided 66 pages of documents to the committee on Friday following a congressional subpoena, which Democrats voted against in the fall. Republicans say congressional investigators continue meeting with White House attorneys and that the committee hasn’t waived its right to additional documents.