House Republicans released emails Wednesday that show a major fundraiser for President Obama discussed the $535 million loan guarantee for the solar company Solyndra during a meeting with White House officials.
George Kaiser, a “bundler” for Obama’s campaign whose foundation invested in Solyndra, said the issue “came up” during a spring 2010 meeting with White House officials. Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, also attended the meeting.
“[A] couple of weeks ago when Ken and I were visiting with a group of Administration folks in DC who are in charge of the Stimulus process (White House, not DOE) and Solyndra came up, every one of them responded simultaneously about their thorough knowledge of the Solyndra story, suggesting it was one of their prime poster children,” Kaiser wrote in a March 5, 2010, email to Steve Mitchell, an executive at venture capitalist firm Argonaut.
The email appears to contradict an October ABC News story in which Kaiser and the Obama administration said Solyndra did not come up at Kaiser’s meetings with the White House.
The White House dismissed the emails Wednesday as an attempt by House Republicans to score political points.
“Even the documents cherry-picked by House Republicans today affirm what we have said all along: this loan was a decision made on the merits at the Department of Energy,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement.
House Republicans allege that the administration approved the loan guarantee to Solyndra in 2009 in part because of Kaiser’s ties to the Obama campaign. The company went bankrupt in early September.
But the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigation — which has combed more than 80,000 pages of administration documents — has found no evidence that the decisions to approve the loan guarantee and restructure the financing in February were influenced by politics.
There is also no evidence in the emails released Wednesday that the White House approved the loan guarantee based on politics. White House officials are not included on the emails and they were sent in 2010, well after the Energy Department finalized the loan guarantee.
But the emails will nonetheless provide fodder in Republicans’ ongoing investigation of the loan guarantee. The committee said Wednesday that the emails show the “close ties” between Kaiser and the White House.
However, the messages could also provide ammunition for administration supporters that say the White House did not intervene politically on Solyndra’s behalf in Energy Department financing decisions when the company was struggling.
An Oct. 6, 2010, email from Kaiser to Mitchell notes “I question the assumption that WH is the path to pursue when both of your issues are with DOE.”
“I doubt whether Rouse/Browner would intervene, and, if they did, whether DOE/Chu would resent [sic] the intervention and your problem could get more difficult,” the message states, adding that an appeal to the White House should be a “last resort.”
Kaiser is likely referring to Pete Rouse, who took over as White House Chief of Staff in October of 2010 on an interim basis when Rahm Emanuel left to run for mayor of Chicago. Browner likely refers to Carol Browner, the top White House energy aide who left the administration earlier this year.
Mitchell’s reply to Kaiser, however, notes that the investors discussed pursuing other forms of administration help for the company’s business. Mitchell writes that “The WH meeting is more about assistance in selling panels to the government than it is about getting the DOE loan revised.”
Other emails show that Solyndra’s backers were earlier buoyed by what they saw as positive White House views toward the solar panel manufacturer.
A Feb. 27, 2010, email from Levit to Mitchell comments on a meeting with officials in Vice President Biden’s office about stimulus oversight that Levit attended.
“They about had an orgasm in Biden’s office when we mentioned Solyndra,” states one message from Levit to Mitchell. Mitchell wrote back: “That’s awesome! Get us a doe loan.”
The company sought but did not receive a second $469 million DOE loan guarantee, previously released messages show.
A separate Feb. 27 message from Levit to an unnamed party states that Biden’s stimulus oversight team are “all big fans of Solyndra.”
In a letter to White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler on Wednesday, top Republicans on the committee used the emails to justify their subpoena for all internal White House communications.
“We note that the White House has repeatedly stated that no political influence was brought to bear with regard to Solyndra, and that Mr. George Kaiser, a Solyndra investor and Obama fundraiser, never discussed Solyndra during any of his seventeen visits to the White House,” the letter from committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the chairman of the panel’s investigative subcommittee, said.
“Documents obtained by the Committee directly contradict those statements,” they said.
The White House has balked at Republicans’ subpoena, arguing it is too broad. Ruemmler, in a meeting with lawmakers last week, offered to provide documents if the committee narrows its request.
But Republicans nonetheless pushed forward with the subpoena, insisting that the White House is not cooperating with their investigation.
Upton and Stearns called on Ruemmler Wednesday to provide the committee with the results of an “internal review” of White House documents related to the Solyndra loan. Such a review would show whether the subpoena request would amount to a major logistical hurdle, as the White House has asserted, the lawmakers said.
“As we expressed during our meeting one week ago, in order to move this negotiating process forward, it is important that you provide information from your own internal review, such as how many individuals in the White House were involved in the Solyndra matter and the quantity and type of responsive documents in the possession of the White House,” the Republican lawmakers said in the letter.
“We could then discuss your concerns based on actual facts rather than hypothetical fears about the nature and scope of the Committee’s request.”
Upton and Stearns argue that providing the documents should be easy if the White House played a limited role in the administration’s review of the Solyndra loan application.
But the White House has said the subpoena request is so broad that it would include all plans for Obama’s visit to the Solyndra in 2010, as well as any mention of the company in internal documents.
Upton and Stearns signaled their willingness to work with the White House on an updated schedule for providing the documents.
“[W]e stand ready to engage in further discussions with you regarding the document production,” the letter said. “In the absence of any further information from you regarding the scope of the responsive documents in your possession, however, we expect you to fully comply with the stated deadline.”
The deadline for providing the documents to the committee is Thursday at noon.