- The Washington Times - Friday, September 23, 2011

The chief executive of Solyndra LLC visited Capitol Hill and assured lawmakers from both parties that its future was solid two months before going bankrupt, members of a congressional panel said Friday as the company’s leaders repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment.

“He said, ‘Solyndra’s future was bright with sales and production booming,’” Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Friday, recounting his talk in July with Solyndra’s top executive, Brian Harrison.

“I’d like to know why he told me that in July and then filed for bankruptcy. … Unfortunately, I will not get an answer today,” Mr. Waxman said at a congressional hearing into the company’s collapse.

Citing legal advice and his rights under the Fifth Amendment, Mr. Harrison told the investigations subcommittee for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, “I must respectfully decline to answer any questions.” The company’s chief financial officer, W.G. Stover Jr., did the same.

In what has developed into a major political embarrassment for the Obama administration, Solyndra was raided by the FBI earlier this month, but authorities haven’t said what they’re investigating.

The silence from Solyndra didn’t stop sharp questioning from lawmakers seeking details about the demise of a once seemingly promising solar company, which had won public praise from top government officials, and even earned an admiring visit last year from President Obama.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigations subcommittee, also recounted receiving assurances from Mr. Harrison two months ago.

“Just two years after Solyndra received its $535 million loan guarantee, and six months after the [Department of Energy] restructured the deal, Solyndra has laid off over a thousand workers, filed for bankruptcy and been raided by the FBI,” Mr. Stearns said.

“Yet, only two months ago, Solyndra CEO Brian Harrison met with me in the committee offices. He looked me in the eye and assured me everything was just fine and the company was on track to be cash-flow positive.”

Other lawmakers pressed for answers on how the company could have collapsed so fast, after receiving the government loan package in 2009.

“How does a company go from having the president of the United States visit it to having the FBI come in and confiscate its files?” asked Rep. Joe Barton, Texas Republican. “The American people deserve an answer to that question.”

Mr. Barton said the Solyndra executives inititally said they had nothing to hide and would testify voluntarily, prompting the committee to delay the hearing on the promise that the officials would publicly address lawmakers’ questions.

The hearing also exposed political divides. Republicans say the Solyndra’s bankruptcy exposes massive flaws in the Department of Energy’s loan program, while Democrats point out that some Republicans had sought funds for that program to be awarded to projects in their home districts.

Republicans also have pushed to find out what role the White House might have played in the Solyndra loan guarantees, as company officials made multiple visits to the White House, records show.

In addition, a top private investor in the company, Argonaut Ventures LLC, has ties to billionaire Oklahoma businessman George Kaiser, who was a fundraiser for Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign. Another top investor, Madrone Capital Partners, is linked to Wal-Mart’s Walton family. Wal-Mart’s political action committee leans Republican.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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