House Republicans accused the White House on Thursday of stonewalling a congressional probe into the failed $535 million loan guarantee to bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra LLC and threatened to issue subpoenas later this month to secure interviews with “key administration staff.”
Republicans on the House Committee on Commerce and Energy made the request in a letter Thursday to White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Cynthia Hogan, counsel to the vice president’s office. It’s the latest in a series of sharp exchanges about access to White House records on the failed deal.
“Despite our repeated overtures for cooperation, the White House continues to stall, refusing to turn over documents and blocking key staff from talking to investigators,” said Rep. Fred Upton, Michigan Republican and chairman of the committee.
“White House lawyers continue to delay and deny even the most basic information about the White House involvement in the loan guarantee gone wrong,” he said in a statement released by the committee.
The White House balked at that characterization and accused Republicans of using the congressional investigation for political purposes.
“We are reviewing their letter, but Congress has now been investigating this loan for almost a year and everything disclosed in the 187,000 pages of documents, nine committee staff briefings, five congressional hearings, 72,000 pages from Solyndra investors, and committee interview with George Kaiser, affirms this was a merit-based decision made by the Department of Energy,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.
Mr. Kaiser raised money for President Obama in 2008, and his family foundation’s investment arm, Argonaut Private Equity, was a major investor in Solyndra. Republicans have raised questions about whether the administration favored Solyndra in awarding the loan, as well as in a later restructuring deal, because of political ties to Mr. Kaiser.
Solyndra won a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy in 2009, winning praise at the time from Vice President Joseph R. Biden. Mr. Obama toured the company’s headquarters in 2010, but Solyndra collapsed last fall, filed for bankruptcy and fired hundreds of employees.
“Whether the Solyndra mess is the result of crony capitalism or gross incompetence, American taxpayers deserve answers as well as the peace of mind that Congress will ensure it never happens again,” Mr. Upton said in his statement.
Mr. Schultz, in an email Thursday, said there has been no evidence to support accusations that politics was involved in the handling of the Solyndra loan guarantee.
“It is troubling that House members would use their investigative authority and taxpayer resources to seek a political advantage,” he said.
In their letter, Republicans said several key questions remain unanswered before they can complete their investigation, including identifying who made a decision to delay Solyndra’s announcement of job layoffs until after the 2010 midterm elections.
“Only documents and information currently in the possession of the White House will allow the committee to fully answer these questions,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Republicans set a Feb. 17 deadline for interviews with five executive branch employees: Kevin Carroll, energy branch chief at the Office of Management and Budget; Kelly Colyar, OMB branch chief; Fouad Saad, program examiner at OMB; Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change; and Aditya Kumar, deputy assistant to the vice president and senior adviser to Rahm Emanuel when he was the White House chief of staff.
In addition, the lawmakers called for documents by Feb. 21 in response to a previous congressional subpoena.
The White House produced about 300 pages of documents Feb. 3, but told the committee it was withholding some documents because of “longstanding Executive Branch institutional interests,” according to the committee.
Meanwhile, recent bankruptcy filings are shedding new light on the company’s frantic last days.
The Washington Times reported Thursday that the company sold off tens of millions of dollars in inventory and accounts receivable last summer to corporate entities backed by its major investors. The sales happened in the weeks before the company went bankrupt.
Steve Mitchell, an executive at Argonaut, said investors did not profit from the accounts receivable and inventory sales, calling it an attempt to give the company more time to turn the corner.