House GOP puts Solyndra in cross hairs

House Republicans have signaled the Solyndra controversy will be at the top of their agenda when they return to Washington next week.

Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans sent a pair of letters Thursday seeking information from two law firms that advised the Energy Department on Solyndra's $535 million loan guarantee in 2009 and the deal’s restructuring in early 2011.

The letters are the latest wrinkle in House Republicans' months-long investigation into Solyndra, the California solar panel maker that filed for bankruptcy in September, about two years after receiving the government-backed loan.

The GOP pounced on the bankruptcy, raising questions about President Obama’s clean-energy agenda and alleging that the administration approved the loan for political reasons. The White House strongly denies those allegations.

In their letters Thursday, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the chairman of the panel’s investigative subcommittee, pressed the law firms — Morrison & Foerster and Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati — for all communications with the Energy Department related to Solyndra.

They are focusing on the department’s February 2011 decision to restructure the loan guarantee to put private investors who agreed to inject more money into Solyndra ahead of taxpayers if the company went under. Republicans allege that the decision to “subordinate” the taxpayer's interest to that of the investors was illegal, an assertion that the Obama administration rejects.

Stearns said Thursday that Morrison & Foerster told the Energy Department that it could not subordinate the taxpayer interest.

“We are trying to determine if there were additional documents or discussions regarding Solyndra and the loan restructuring, as well as why Susan Richardson, chief counsel for the loan program, ignored this legal advice and put taxpayers at the end of the line if the faltering Solyndra went bankrupt,” Stearns said in a statement.

The letters signal that House Republicans intend to continue hammering the administration over the loan guarantee in the coming weeks and months. The investigation has already produced two subpoenas — one to the White House — and more than 180,000 pages of documents.

But the probe has yet to produce a smoking gun. It has uncovered no evidence that the administration or the White House approved the loan for political reasons.

Still, the investigation has yielded a number of revelations that are uncomfortable for the White House, including that there was internal disagreement about the wisdom of granting the loan guarantee.

Committee Republicans are exploring a number of angles in their ongoing investigation. The panel sent a letter late last month seeking information from the company that conducted two independent reports on Solyndra for the Energy Department.

Republicans sent a separate letter late last month to the head of the General Services Administration regarding plans for Solyndra to supply solar panels for government buildings.

Separately, a GOP committee aide told The Hill that staff are in negotiations with the White House for additional Solyndra documents. The White House provided about 135 pages of documents in response to the committee’s subpoena. Republicans have called the response inadequate.

Meanwhile, the White House is slated to complete an independent review of the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program by the end of the month. The review will likely provide more fodder for Republicans’ Solyndra investigation.

Outgoing White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley called for the review amid the Solyndra fallout and ongoing questions about the department’s other loan guarantees.

Republicans say they intend to broaden their investigation to include a number of other Energy Department loans.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who is conducting a separate probe of the loan guarantee program, sent the Energy Department letters earlier this month seeking information on two administration-backed projects that have faced financial troubles.

Issa asked DOE for details about a $43 million loan guarantee to Beacon Power, a Massachusetts energy storage company that filed for bankruptcy last year. He also questioned the department about its $98.5 million loan guarantee to Nevada Geothermal Power, a company that has had a number of financial problems.

This story was updated at 10:02 a.m.

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