White House gives up more Solyndra docs

Amid threats by a top House Republican to pursue contempt charges, the White House on Friday sent lawmakers more internal documents related to the $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar firm Solyndra.

The White House, in providing the 313 pages of documents, again denied that approval of the loan guarantee in 2009 was influenced by politics, an allegation that Republicans have repeated for months.

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“Notwithstanding the lack of any evidence supporting the Committee’s allegations of favoritism to campaign donors or other alleged improper conduct, the committee continues to engage in a wide-ranging fishing expedition, demanding that the White House provide more documents with minimal, if any, relevance to the Committee’s oversight interests of legislative function,” the White House’s top lawyers wrote in a letter to Republicans Friday.

Friday marked the third time that the White House provided internal documents to the House Energy and Commerce Committee since Republicans on the panel issued a subpoena for all Solyndra communications in November.

In addition to the approximately 1,500 pages of documents that the White House has now provided to Republicans probing the loan guarantee, federal agencies have given lawmakers more than 185,000 pages of documents.

The months-long GOP-led Solyndra investigation has not unearthed evidence that political favoritism was a factor in granting the loan guarantee. But the probe has unearthed several emails that are uncomfortable for the White House, including several that show administration officials raised internal concerns about the wisdom of approving the loan guarantee.

Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in early September shortly after the California-based solar panel maker laid off 1,100 workers. Republicans immediately seized on the company’s collapse, intensifying their ongoing Solyndra investigation.

Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), the GOP lawmaker heading up the probe, has alleged that the White House has not been forthcoming with documents in response to the subpoena. He organized a meeting with Republican lawmakers on the committee’s investigative panel Thursday to discuss the possibility of pursuing contempt charges over the White House response to the subpoena.

But Stearns told reporters after the meeting that he has not yet determined whether to move forward with the charges, signaling that the additional White House documents would influence Republicans’ final decision.

The White House said Friday that it has completed a search for all Solyndra documents from Jan. 20, 2009, to Aug. 31, 2011.

The letter to House Republicans says the White House excluded documents that have already been provided to the committee by other federal agencies, emails from media organizations and press releases, among other things.

The White House also said it did not provide “a small number of internal White House documents that contain only incidental references to the Solyndra conditional commitment, but implicate long-standing Executive Branch institutional interests.”

The White House said it is willing to consider providing additional documents, but added, “[I]n light of this production and the minimal yield it demonstrates in terms of information relevant to the Committee’s oversight and legislative functions, we suggest that the Committee reconsider its broad requests.”

The documents include more emails showing Energy Department and White House officials planning for 2009’s two major Solyndra announcements – the preliminary March offer of the loan guarantee and the deal’s completion in September.

The documents show that administration officials were keen to tout Solyndra as a major step in White House efforts to spur clean energy industries and jobs. Solyndra was the first loan guarantee issued under a green energy program that was authorized in a 2005 energy law, and received additional funding in the stimulus law.

In a March 17, 2009 email from the Energy Department to White House officials including Vice President Joe Biden’s then-chief of staff Ron Klain, DOE public affairs director Dan Leistikow notes:

“[W]e will have done in 2 months what hadn’t been done in 4 years – reflecting the Administration’s commitment to moving aggressively with important investments that create jobs and make us energy independent.”

The conditional loan guarantee was announced March 20 of 2009.

The emails also show Klain was optimistic about having Biden and President Obama directly involved in Solyndra. “This is great,” he notes in an August 11 email as the completion of the loan guarantee was nearing. “When is vp next in California? When is potus in California.”

Biden appeared via satellite at the event finalizing the loan guarantee in September of 2009, and Obama personally visited Solyndra in May of 2010.

Stearns signaled Friday that Republicans have no intention of slowing their Solyndra probe. He said he’s planning more hearings and hopes to continue examining the Energy Department’s early 2011 decision to restructure the Solyndra loan as the company faced major financial problems.

The restructuring agreement ensured that private investors who agreed to inject more capitol into Solyndra would be repaid ahead of the taxpayer if the company collapsed.