By Andrew Restuccia - 03/19/12 05:27 PM EDT
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has launched "unsubstantiated" investigations into Energy Department projects on scant evidence, according to a senior Democrat.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) made the charge in a letter sent Monday to Issa, who as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has launched 11 different probes into Energy Department projects, including the $535 million loan guarantee to failed California solar firm Solyndra.
“Although I fully support aggressive oversight to ensure that government programs work effectively and efficiently, I believe the committee should refrain from making accusations without evidence to support them and should correct the record when claims turn out to be inaccurate,” wrote Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the panel.
Many of the 11 investigations into the Energy Department that Issa has launched in recent months have “been based on unsubstantiated allegations that proved inaccurate after further investigation,” Cummings said, noting that the committee has received more than 300,000 pages of documents in response to 46 information requests.
A spokesman for Issa dismissed the letter as “fantasies from Congress’ chief obstructionist of oversight.”
“[Cummings’s] mischaracterizations of the committee's work and ludicrous suggestion that billions in stimulus loans to Solyndra, First Solar, and other companies don't deserve oversight is indicative of how desperate this administration and its allies are to change the subject,” said Issa spokesman Jeffrey Solsby.
“On a day when the committee is holding a full committee hearing on foreclosures, something Rep. Cummings has described as his top priority, sending this freakish missive on energy loans speaks volumes about his own deficiencies as a congressional investigator.”
Issa and other House Republicans have set their sights on the Energy Department in recent months, pouncing on the collapse of Solyndra, which received a $535 million taxpayer-backed loan. Issa launched a broad probe of the department's loan program in the aftermath of the Solyndra bankruptcy.
The letter underscores the often-icy relationship between Cummings and Issa. Cummings, for example, accused Issa of undermining the integrity of the committee last year when he suggested that a top Interior Department official was lying under oath.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu is slated to testify before the panel on his department’s management of stimulus money. The New York Times reported Monday that Issa will release a report Tuesday that alleges the department “manipulated analysis, ignored objections from career professionals and strategically modified loan evaluations in order to force project funding out the door.”
Cummings, in Monday’s letter, laid out several examples of investigations that he says found no evidence of wrongdoing. He bashed Issa for criticizing the Energy Department’s loan program. Issa has alleged that the program is influenced by politics.
“Although the Committee has identified no evidence that decisions were based on political favoritism or corruption, we have identified at least 484 letters sent by Democrats and Republicans, including you, in support of federal funds for clean energy projects,” Cummings said.
A separate House Energy and Commerce Committee investigation into the Solyndra bankruptcy has found no evidence that the loan was approved for political reasons. But the probe has uncovered information that's embarrassing and politically damaging to the administration, including that top officials questioned the wisdom of issuing the loan.
Democrats and administration officials have alleged that Republicans are using their investigations of the Energy Department to score political points during an election year.
Cummings took particular offense to Issa’s claim that Energy Department employees might have violated the law by allegedly telling General Motors to withhold documents from the committee that were necessary for its probe of the administration’s fuel economy standards.
The department’s deputy general counsel said in May 2011 that the agency never asked GM to withhold documents.
“Rather than threatening Department employees based on little or no evidence, it appears that a telephone call could have resolved this question,” Cummings said. “In my opinion, the employees targeted in your letter deserve an apology on behalf of the Committee.”
— This story was updated at 6:35 p.m. with comment from Issa's office.