White House sends GOP another batch of Solyndra documents

The White House on Friday sent more internal documents to Republicans investigating the $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar firm Solyndra, arguing that the cache of emails should satisfy GOP investigators.

The emails show senior White House aides discussing the need to coordinate messaging with the Energy Department and others ahead of Solyndra layoffs that occurred in early November 2010.
 
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been pressuring the White House for weeks to release more Solyndra documents, after officials provided about 135 pages of emails in response to a GOP subpoena.

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The newly released documents will likely provide fodder for the ongoing, months-long Republican investigation into the loan guarantee. House Republicans have signaled that they intend to make it a top political priority when Congress returns next week. 

The White House sent 66 additional pages of documents to the committee Friday in an effort to quell persistent Republican allegations that the administration approved the Solyndra loan guarantee for political reasons.

“The additional documents we are providing to the committee today further demonstrate that the decisions about whether to grant a conditional commitment to Solyndra and then to close and restructure the loan guarantee, were made on the merits by [the Energy Department],” the White House’s top lawyers wrote in a letter obtained by The Hill from a government source.

“There is no support for the allegations of political favoritism and improper White House interference that were the initial focus of the committee’s concerns.”

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in September 2011, about two years after receiving the $535 million loan guarantee, and set off a political firestorm in Washington. Republicans have used the company’s collapse to raise questions about the White House’s green agenda, and have alleged that the administration approved the loan to please President Obama’s campaign donors.

So far, the GOP investigation has uncovered more than 180,000 pages of documents from the White House and various federal agencies. But the probe has yielded no evidence that the administration approved the loan for political reasons.

Committee Republicans requested Solyndra documents in 11 categories. But the White House said many of the categories were too broad.

“Such broad requests, which do not appear to be tailored to address any legitimate oversight interests of the committee, unreasonably intrude on longstanding institutional interests of the White House,” the administration lawyers wrote in their letter.

The White House said it “attempted to accommodate the committee by taking a more focused approach to these overbroad requests based on the legitimate issues we understand the committee to be pursuing, namely decision-making with respect to the Solyndra loan guarantee.”

The additional documents, the White House said, should “more than satisfy the committee’s legitimate oversight interests and aid its legislative function.”

Layoffs ‘no es bueno’

The internal emails the White House released Friday afternoon again show that high-level Obama administration officials were keenly aware of the political optics surrounding Solyndra, the first company to receive a loan guarantee under a stimulus-backed renewable-energy program.

The Energy Department and the White House strongly promoted Solyndra as a highlight of the administrations push to create green energy jobs, and President Obama visited the company in May 2010.

The emails show senior officials in late October and early November 2010 discussing looming layoffs at the solar panel manufacturer — and how they would manage the fallout.

In one message, Obama energy aide Heather Zichal warned officials including White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer and top communications aide Jennifer Psaki of Solyndras upcoming announcement.

“We will all be coordinating with DOE and others on the press message but given the fact that the Administration has made this such a high profile [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] investment, we wanted you to be aware that this was coming,” Zichal wrote. 

Officials copied on the message include then-White House energy czar Carol Browner and Ron Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Biden. An Oct. 29 email from Joseph Aldy, another former White House energy aide, to Browner and others noted that upcoming layoffs were “not a good start for the first closed loan guarantee.”

Zichal, in reply, warned of 200 planned layoffs, but also noted that “according to DOE they have a good product.”

“Clearly they are going to need to do something differently,” she wrote. In an Oct. 27 email to Browner and others, Zichal flagged coming layoffs with the phrase “no es bueno.”

Documents released earlier by the Obama administration suggested that DOE urged the company to delay the layoff announcement until after the Nov. 2, 2010, midterm election.

But the newly released messages do not show that the White House sought a delay after learning of the planned layoffs from DOE.

Solyndra ultimately announced on Nov. 3, 2010, that it would close a manufacturing facility in Fremont, Calif., prompting the layoff of 40 workers and 150 contractors.

— This post was updated at 5:55 p.m.