Stimulus could haunt Sheriff Biden

“Sheriff” Joe BidenJoe BidenJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE’s remarks could come back to haunt him when it comes to Solyndra, the solar company that went bankrupt after winning a $535 million loan guarantee from 2009’s economic stimulus package.

President Obama named his vice president the sheriff of the stimulus, and Biden’s duties were to ensure that no money was wasted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

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Biden, a key figure in any White House negotiation with leaders on Capitol Hill, has boasted of his success in limiting fraud and waste in the stimulus.

“Now, there were a lot of naysayers back then who said that there was no way we could implement the Recovery Act without massive waste, fraud and abuse,” Biden said in a June 13 post on the White House blog announcing the new “Campaign to Cut Waste,” which was to root out wasteful government spending at every agency and department.

“You know what? They were wrong. Thanks to our diligence (and some help from advanced computer models and sophisticated data analysis), the Recovery Act has had an unprecedentedly low level of fraud, with less than 0.6 percent of all awards experiencing any waste or abuse.”

Obama asked Biden to reprise his sheriff role Wednesday, appointing him to lead a review of how agencies spend taxpayer dollars following a Justice Department report that found “extravagant” spending on conferences, including $16 muffins.

The Solyndra controversy represents a small portion of the total stimulus funds, but it still strikes at the administration’s promise to prevent fraud and waste. And Biden finds himself in the middle of the controversy.

Republicans argue the White House rushed the loan to Solyndra so that Biden could announce it at a company event in 2009, when the administration was pushing green energy as a way to create jobs.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, points to administration emails to argue reviews of the loan by the Office of Management and Budget and Department of Energy were rushed so that the announcement could be made.

In a March 10, 2009, email first reported by ABC News, a White House budget analyst described the deal as “not ready for prime time.” In another email sent on March 7, Biden chief of staff Ronald Klain wrote, “[I]f you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the W[est] W[ing] QUICKLY.”

Upton’s committee is conducting its own investigation of Solyndra’s bankruptcy, and on Tuesday the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), announced he would lead a probe.

Executives from Solyndra will appear Friday before Upton’s committee, but they have said they will exercise their Fifth Amendment rights, given the federal investigations into their firm.

Issa said his investigation would look into “when the president and his cronies are picking winners and losers. ... It wasn’t because there were large contributions given to them.”

Solyndra has ties to a venture capital fund associated with George Kaiser, a fundraising bundler for the Obama campaign. The White House has rejected any suggestions Solyndra received favorable treatment because of Kaiser, and has noted that another major backer of the solar firm was the Walton family, which owns Wal-Mart and has backed GOP candidates.

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Issa’s office did not respond to questions from reporters from The Hill about whether he would push to speak with Biden about Solyndra.

After the GOP won back the House last fall, Biden and Issa met for an hour and discussed the stimulus, which Issa has attacked as a waste of money. They agreed to have follow-up conversations about areas where they could work together.

Biden has been a valuable player for the Obama White House.

He served for decades in the Senate before joining Obama’s ticket, and the White House has relied on the vice president to help negotiate deals with his old colleagues in the Senate on taxes, spending and an agreement to raise the debt ceiling.

No one else in the administration can match Biden’s relationships with Senate veterans, including Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Energy: California, 23 other states sue Trump over vehicle emissions rule | Climate strike protests hit cities across globe | Interior watchdog expands scope of FOIA investigation | Dems accuse officials of burying climate reports Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers say Zuckerberg to 'cooperate' on antitrust probes | Dems see victory after McConnell backs election security funds | Twitter takes down fake pro-Saudi accounts Liberal super PAC launches browser extension replacing 'Mitch McConnell' with 'Moscow Mitch' MORE (R-Ky.), the minority leader.

As a result, any damage to Biden from the evolving controversy would hurt both the vice president and the White House as Obama’s reelection campaign heads into overdrive.

Biden on Tuesday told a crowd at a Chicago fundraiser that Obama had “let me loose” to “just go be Joe” on the 2012 campaign trail. The comments indicate the strengths Obama thinks the vice president brings to the campaign trail — strengths that could be undermined the more he gets drawn into the Solyndra story.

Jordy Yager and Anna Harvey contributed to this story.