By Andrew Restuccia - 09/21/11 12:58 AM EDT
House Republicans are making a concerted effort to drum home charges that the White House is guilty of Chicago-style cronyism.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) signaled the GOP’s intent Tuesday in announcing he would investigate White House actions related to the failed solar firm Solyndra and the wireless startup LightSquared.
Though Issa did not accuse the White House of wrongdoing, his statements and actions suggest Republicans hope to make ethics an issue for Obama during the 2012 presidential race.
“I want to see when the president and his cronies are picking winners and losers. … It wasn’t because there were large contributions given to them,” Issa said Tuesday morning on C-SPAN.
“We are investigating. But we’re looking at it not for one company or two companies. We’re looking at the system [and] the corruption that seems to be endemic in [it],” Issa added.
Solyndra went bankrupt this month after winning a $535 million loan guarantee funded by the 2009 stimulus package. Republicans cite emails that they say show the White House pressured administration staffers to quickly finalize financing for the company despite their misgivings about the firm’s viability.
LightSquared, meanwhile, has been seeking regulatory approval to use new wireless technology that has been found to interfere with GPS. Republicans charge that the White House pressured an Air Force general to revise testimony before a closed congressional hearing to aid the company.
Conservative news sites have pounced on both stories.
House Republicans have questioned whether the White House gave preferential treatment to Solyndra because of its ties to a venture capital fund associated with George Kaiser, a fundraising bundler for the Obama campaign.
The White House has strongly rejected the allegations, noting that another major backer of Solyndra is associated with the Walton family, which owns Wal-Mart and has backed Republican candidates.
“In this time of record debt, I question whether the government is qualified to act as a venture capitalist, picking winners and losers in speculative ventures and shelling out billions of taxpayer dollars to keep them afloat,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said during a hearing last week.
The White House says the emails about Solyndra that Republicans cite in making the allegations reflect a “scheduling matter,” and not an effort to rush a final decision on the loan guarantee. They’ve insisted that the White House exerted no influence in choosing the company and noted that the George W. Bush administration flagged it as a top prospect for a loan guarantee.
The White House has also pointed to recent stories that show top Republicans like Upton and Issa have pressed the Energy Department to approve loan guarantees in their home states.
Republicans are expanding their investigation to include 14 pending loan guarantees from the Energy Department, totaling $8.9 billion, that they fear are being rushed out the door to meet the Sept. 30 deadline set by the stimulus law. “We are concerned that another rush to meet stimulus deadlines will result in DOE closing these deals before they are ready,” Upton wrote in a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu on Tuesday.
Upton’s committee is conducting its own investigation of the Solyndra bankruptcy. During a hearing last week, Republicans on the panel’s investigative subcommittee blasted Energy Department and White House Office of Management and Budget officials over the loan guarantee.
“Only after the Obama administration took control and the stimulus passed was the Solyndra deal pushed through,” Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the investigative panel, said at the hearing.
On Friday, the panel will have a chance to question top Solyndra executives about the company’s decision to file for bankruptcy and lay off 1,100 workers. Solyndra said the executives would exercise their Fifth Amendment rights at the hearing, citing the ongoing federal investigations into the company. The session will nonetheless be a prime opportunity for Republicans to skewer the administration on the incident.
Other top House Republicans have pounced on the Solyndra debacle. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) called on the Justice Department on Monday to appoint a special examiner to investigate the Solyndra bankruptcy.
“An independent examiner will uncover the truth about whether politics played a role in influencing the Obama administration to favor Solyndra over more financially stable loan applicants and thus ensure the integrity of the bankruptcy process for all creditors,” Smith said in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
The administration is also examining the Solyndra loan guarantee.
The Energy Department’s inspector general worked with the FBI on its raid of Solyndra earlier this month, though it is unclear if the raid was related to the loan guarantee. The inspectors general at the Treasury Department and Justice Department are also looking into the issue.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the Solyndra incident should lead to an examination of the Energy Department’s renewable energy loan guarantee program.
“One of the things that I would like to have the committee consider is not necessarily picking apart Solyndra. Solyndra is yesterday’s bankruptcy. I am concerned about what this might portend for the loan guarantee program as a whole,” Murkowski said.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) distributed a document to Republicans on Tuesday during their weekly caucus lunch noting that Solyndra’s government-backed loan amounted to more money than most states received for their highways, roads and bridges under the stimulus law.
Republicans have raised similar concerns about LightSquared. “We cannot afford to have federal telecommunication policy, especially where it affects national security, to be made in the same way this White House has parceled out a half-billion dollars in loan guarantees to the failed Solyndra Corp.,” Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said during a hearing last week.
The Daily Beast reported that the White House asked Air Force Gen. William Shelton to change his prepared remarks for a closed-door hearing on LightSquared in order to show that he supported the administration’s policy to expand wireless broadband access, even though the company’s technology had been found to interfere with military and aviation GPS.
Both LightSquared and the White House have denied any wrongdoing.
Since becoming chairman of the powerful committee in January, Issa has used his subpoena power to probe a wide variety of issues within the White House.
“I do not trust anybody,” Issa said on C-SPAN Tuesday. “My job is not to trust.”
“I have 16 presidents in two paintings on my wall — eight Republicans and eight Democrats — and when people come in, I point to them and I say, ‘Here are 16 people you can’t trust.’ ”
Jordy Yager, Ben Geman and Justin Sink contributed to this story.